Christmas bespeaks of Nativity. And Nativity gives occasion to Nativity plays. No one knows who first came up with the idea of dramatizing the birth of Jesus, but the first script has inspired innumerable others.
Though each Nativity play has its own unique wrinkle, they all have some common features: angels with chiffon wings and wise men and their gifts from afar. A weary innkeeper will turn Mary away. A wide-eyed Joseph will bunch the manger’s hay. And Mary, weary and sweet, will say “I think today.”
Beneath a suspended star a baby will be born, the angels will sing, the wise men will kneel and children of all ages will go home telling their parents that next year they want a part in the Nativity play. Little boys want to be Joseph. Little girls want to be Mary. Some want to wear the angel wings or bear gifts from a distant land. A few might even offer to be the hard-hearted Herod or the hassled innkeeper.
But no one, ever, as far as I know, volunteers to be the donkey. Which is odd, actually, for what greater honor could exist than to do what the donkey did? He carried Jesus. I know, Joseph is better looking and Mary is quite stunning. Wise men get the cool hats and angels have the hallelujahs. And the donkey? He just stands to the side and chews on hay.
But look at him. Do you not see contentment in those big, brown eyes? A look of satisfaction on his face? He just delivered history’s greatest gift! Before Santa had a sleigh or UPS had trucks, God had a donkey. Thanks in no small part to him, the choir can sing “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”
I know, I know. We’d rather be Joseph, rugged and bearded. We’d rather be Mary, faithful, beautiful and immaculate.
But somebody needs to be the donkey. I’m thinking a donkey at Christmas is a good thing to be.
The Christmas donkey did his work. He delivered Jesus so Jesus could be delivered.
He plodded. He didn’t gallop or giddy-up. He did what donkeys do. He steadily stepped in the direction the master directed.
And, upon arrival, he stepped to the side. He demanded no recognition, expected no compensation. He isn’t even mentioned in the Bible.
He was happy to do his job and let Jesus have all the attention.
Perhaps we could learn a lesson from the Christmas donkey. There is always a place in the Nativity, God’s Nativity story, for the person who will plod along expecting no applause, bear up under the weight of the long haul, and carry the one who will carry us all.
So here’s to the donkeys of the story. May your ride be faithful and your rest be fruitful. And we will do our best to follow your example.