Disturbing news reached me earlier this week from a fellow blogger: the entire menagerie - and the heavenly host! - from her Christmas crib had gone AWOL (last seen in the loft). I sympathised; we've had two cribs go missing over the years, never found. One was a delightful Fairtrade wooden set: I can't remember which country it came from but I strongly suspect it was somewhere where camels are not normally found. The Wise Mens' steeds had bug ears, no humps and resembled no camel I'd ever seen. It was a lovely crib, though; I miss it. Wonder what became of it...
Of course, if you followed the link above you'll see that Greenpatches' story has obviously had a happy ending. I do like Zebedee - reminds me of Catriona's giant sheep over at A Skinny Fairtrade Latte...
Strangely proportioned characters are an occupational hazard in setting up Christmas cribs. There used to be a marvellous column in The Universe called The Secret Diary of Fr Hadrian Mule. Here's a cautionary Christmas entry:
"Tuesday: Just when I thought all was well with the crib some careless person dropped the ox. (Actually it came apart in my hands.) An offer from a butcher's wife of the large china animal from her husband's shop was declined when I realised that the said object was marked with all the cuts of beef. I felt the vegans in the congregation would understandably object. But then Divine Providence stepped in and a lady explained that she had intended presenting the church with a carved ox in memory of her uncle who had reared pedigree bulls and that it was ready.
Wednesday: The carved ox duly arrived. In fact, it is only half the size of the ass - not a serious problem as the figures are so out of proportion anyway that they look like characters out of two versions of Gulliver's Travels. However, carved on the ox's rump steak was: 'In memory of Syd Bloggs'. The ox was discreetly turned away from the shepherds who ranged from 2ft 6ins to 8ft."
Happy memories of one parish where I once served. The old and much-used china ox had to have its rump steak turned away from view, for a different reason: it was affectionately known to us all as "the cow with the broken bum".
But it's good - essential - to have the animals there. In this icon of the nativity the adoring ox and ass are closest of all to the Child - closer even than his mother. They are right there with him in the dark cave of our creaturehood, which he came to share and redeem. They know their Master simply, instinctively and intuitively. Would that we could too!
Have a beautiful, peaceful and blessed Christmas! Thank you for your company.