The first thing to notice in this image is that the animals are just that - animals. The humble contrast to the images of ‘animals-as-comical-little-people’ above, is striking. The nativity animals participated in the story of Jesus’ birth not because they played a part set for them by humans; rather it was their very animal-ness that meant they could be an integral part in the story’s unfolding. There was a relationship between the humans and the animals which involved the animals ‘working for’ the humans – the camels, for example, were beasts of burden who brought the magi and Mary to Bethlehem. But, as the assembled scene shows, the humans and animals shared a mutuality of purpose in their participation; to be the first gathered worshippers of the Godchild, Jesus. This inclusivity of all flesh around the word-made-flesh is deeply profound. This symbolism is further emphasised by Jesus, the bread of life, having an animal feeding trough as his first resting place. The clean and the unclean come together in a radical redrawing of the boundaries around who can belong to God. Traditional nativities depict an ox and an ass; symbols of the people of Israel and the Gentiles respectively. Their inclusion in the nativity scene alongside each other and in close proximity to the holy family is a symbolic forward echo to the work of Christ in reconciling all creation. How might we reflect on animals in the light of these two pictures? In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, animals are afforded great dignity. God’s creativity is displayed in abundance through the multitude of animals, birds and sea creatures we share the earth with; all of which God created with joy and called ‘good’. In biblical times, animals were a sign of prosperity and God’s blessing and were to be treated with honour. Animals are integral to the covenants God makes (for example the covenant with Noah was with his family and all the animals). And animals are part of the creation that groans in expectation for the redemptive plan God has for the world. Let’s pause for a moment with a couple of questions for us to ponder over advent: • What do these two images reveal to you about your relationship with animals? 6

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