By Rev Barbara Allen
As we approach the Christmas season, we are probably trying to stay true to ourselves and to our beliefs and ideals, holding fast to what it means to be ‘Christian’.
Where do we feel Christians would be if we used the IUCN scale? The IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. Species are rated on this scale as: Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Threatened (Critical, Endangered, Vulnerable) Near Threatened, or of Least Concern.
As Christians living in a predominantly secular world, we may feel ‘vulnerable’ or ‘threatened’ (or, if feeling overlooked, of ‘least concern.’)
What about the non-human species? There are 23,000 endangered species at present on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
This Christmas, what about giving a gift to the planet?
A New Year resolution might be to concentrate on a particular species to help save and protect over the coming years.
As we pause to consider the meaning of Christmas, we remember that Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by animals (think of the animals mentioned in Christmas carols, and depicted on Christmas cards).
Animals are to be cared for too; Jesus was born as a gift for all creation, not just for humans.
One of the apocryphal texts, (religious texts that didn’t make it into the final canon of Scripture), is the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, a late text, perhaps from the 8th century, which brings together some of the legends popular among ordinary Christians. This text became an important channel through which the legends of the nativity became widely known, and it had a great impact on the art and literature of the medieval West. In this text, Jesus is viewed as the new Adam, adored at birth by the animals. This is where the ‘ox and ass’ are mentioned as being in the stable:
“On the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ holy Mary went out from the cave, and went into a stable and put her child in a manger, and an ox and an ass worshipped him. Then was fulfilled that which was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘The ox knows his owner and the ass his master’s crib.’”
This legend (and others) demonstrates Jesus’ peace in the world, and the ability to live in harmony with all creation, a vision, alongside Isaiah 11: 6-9, known as ‘the peaceable kingdom’.
What can we do in the New Year? Some church communities are looking at conserving native wildlife such as Benalla Uniting Church, one of the groups involved in the Regent Honeyeater Habitat Restoration Project.
What animals, birds, or insects, endangered or classified as vulnerable, reside in your region?
We know we cannot be involved in every cause, so choose one or two that you are drawn to, and go from there. It may be a local creature, or an international one.
If animals were among the first witnesses to Jesus’ birth, what would a nativity scene look like if we constructed one that was formed of animals that are now extinct such as the dodo or Tasmanian tiger?
What about constructing a nativity scene with ‘critically threatened’ Australian species, such as the mountain pygmy possum or northern hairy-nosed wombat?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if next Christmas we could say we helped save or conserve a certain species?
May you and all of creation have a joyous Christmas.
Image via Flickr/Isabelle Adam