A few years ago, I set out to start a tradition of reading Christmas themed books in the month of December as a family. I wanted to wrap each book up and then have the kids pick a book and we’d read whatever book was under the wrapping paper. As it stands I had only enough juice in me to wrap all of those books once. (Because each kid had to have a book to open each night or there would be no peace on earth or goodwill toward men in our house. 24 books x 3 kids = 72 books YIKES!). So all of our Christmas story books just live, unwrapped in a Rubbermaid bin which gets toted out and set near the Christmas tree in December. The kids can pick and choose books as they want. Mama is much happier that way. This tradition has helped our family discover some very fun and tender Christmas books. One of our favorites is The Animals’ Christmas Eve. This book talks about the animals that were in the stable and witnessed the birth of the Savior. It’s one of my favorite books to read to my kids.
When I think of animals I’m very thankful that we have them. They enrich our lives as pets, they help us work and eat (as in they are beasts of burden on farms, and also raised as food).
It was prophesied by Zechariah in the Old Testament that Christ would come, riding a donkey, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (see Zechariah 9:9).
That prophesy was fulfilled in Mark 7: 1-3, “And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.” Why a donkey though? Christ was the Prince of Peace, the donkey symbolized peace in ancient times, whereas a horse was an animal used in war. It’s very fitting that Mary probably rode a donkey to Bethlehem, and Christ also rode a donkey from Bethlehem into Jerusalem.
Then there are the shepherds. Sheep herding was not a very glamorous profession in ancient times. Shepherds were usually looked at as the lowest of the low in society. But they were clearly important, as the Angel of the Lord came to them and gave them a personal announcement and invitation to come to the Christ child. Christ is our Shepherd, and shepherds were invited to witness that He was born. In Luke 2: 8-12, 15-17 we read,
“8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
I love how Luke points out “they came with haste”. It begs the question, how fast am I coming toward the Savior when He calls me?
Wildwood Carol — by John Rutter. This song mentions all of the animals that were part of the Christmas story: the donkey which was ridden. The animals in the stable. The lambs being tended by the shepherds.
Donkey Carol, by John Rutter. If you haven’t guessed it, I’m somewhat of a John Rutter fan. This is another fun carol about the donkey. I love the line, “Donkey riding over the bumpy road. Carry Mary, oh with her heavy load. Noel, noel!”
Shepherd’s Pipe Carol — by John Rutter. This is another joyful song. I just love how they ask, “Is it far to Bethlehem?”