It's becoming a bit of a Christmas Eve tradition to share this reflection from Nancy Janisch of Conversation in Faith, a heartfelt and hopeful complement for 'the night before' ...
When you were young, did anyone ever tell you that animals can talk at midnight on Christmas? I don’t remember who told me, but I do remember looking expectantly at our family Dachshund for several years on Christmas Eve. For the record, he never said anything. At least not in a human language.
A quick internet search didn’t turn up much about the origins of this legend, which is a little surprising and frustrating in this day of easy on-line research. But it does give us the space to speculate and theologize a bit.
There is a longing in children to talk with animals. What else explains the Doctor Dolittle stories? What else explains the long, one-sided talks between a child and a patient dog or cat (or horse or hamster)?
I wonder if that longing isn’t the remnant of our memory of the way things were supposed to be. Somehow as children we know that our relationship with animals is not what is should be. A child should be able to put her hand near the wasp, and we should not have to flee from a bear or run from a lion. As children we long for the harmony which we know is missing from the world.
That missing harmony begins to be set right at Christmas. Long before we have the theological language to describe it, we know that when Jesus is born, God come among us, the healing has begun. The Good News is here. At the birth of Jesus, the incarnation, heaven and earth are joined. Angels and shepherds sing, and legend suggests that even the animals joined in the praise. The world was set right for a moment.
The underlying assumption of this legend is that the animals know God and are in relationship with God. Until we get talked out of it, many of us start with the very Biblical assumption that all of creation, everything and everyone, can praise God. Animals, in their animal way, praise God. And on Christmas, we humans may be given a glimpse of the reality of animals.
I’m a grown person now, well past the age of childhood dreams. But yet, each Christmas I catch myself looking at my cats and hoping this is the Christmas they speak. Hoping this is the Christmas that the world is set right. May it be so …
I just wanted to add a poignant and related quote from Frederick Buechner, which I discovered in Philip Yancey's excellent (and identifiable) book Disappointment with God:
The child born in the night among beasts. The sweet breath and steaming dung of beasts. And nothing is ever the same again. (The Hungering Dark (Seabury '81), pg. 13-14)
(originally posted 12/24/09; many thanks to Nancy, a valued contributor, for sharing "Talking to the Animals on Christmas Eve," first posted on her blog Conversation in Faith; photo copyright Beth Van Trees/123rf.com; "The Peaceable Kingdom" painting by American folk artist and Quaker minister Edward Hicks (1780-1849), via CGFA/Wikimedia Commons)