Wednesday, December 21, 2016

#408, in which we are glad to tell of the gifts we gave Emmanuel

"The Friendly Beasts" is a soft, gentle, simple song. We sing about a lot of different aspects of the Nativity in our carols, but I think this might be the only one where we get to hear from the animals themselves. It's a nice idea, hearing what they have to say and how they participated in the birth of their Savior.

Each animal has its own role to play. The donkey tells of how it bore Mary on its back on her journey to Bethlehem. The cow offered its manger to hold the baby Jesus and its hay for a makeshift pillow. The sheep offered its wool as a coat, and the dove sang Him to sleep from the rafters. The camel brought the Magi with their gifts to visit the Savior. 
Thus every beast by some good spell
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Emmanuel,
The gift he gave Emmanuel.
The point isn't that any of the animals gave a greater gift than the others, and the point also isn't that any of them are trying to upstage each other. They're all just pleased that they had a chance to participate in such an incredible event, and as lowly stable animals, no less. Each is "glad to tell" what it was able to do and give.

There's a moral here, if we care to see it. At Christmas we can get caught up in gift giving and receiving, weighing our pile against someone else's, or comparing who was able to give the most impressive gift. We can try to serve, or try to organize gatherings, or any of a number of things in order to make ourselves look impressive. It's human nature, unfortunately. We are self-interested from birth. But perhaps we can look at these animals and learn that we can be grateful for the opportunity to give gifts at all. We can be grateful for the chance to participate in a celebration of the birth of our Lord. We can look at our fellow man as equals and rejoice that each of us has something to give. When compared with the gift the Savior gave us of redemption from sin, none of our gifts is particularly impressive, but he accepts what each of us has to offer with the same humility and gratitude. We can do the same when looking at each other and what we are able to give.

These simple songs sometimes end up being the sweetest ones to hear.

Previously in this series

What Child is This?

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Coventry Carol

The Holly and the Ivy

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Wexford Carol

I Saw Three Ships

We Three Kings

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella

In the Bleak Midwinter

Little Drummer Boy

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