“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” [Gospel of Luke]
Tintoretto, 1518-1594. The Nativity from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
Why a manger, the animals’ feeding trough? Why does Tintoretto’s babe seem to be so interested in the animals? Why are the animals so comfortable around him?
Luke is doing theology, which is not everyone’s cup of tea! But we all engage in it. It’s about Reality and what we believe most deeply about it.
“Good” theology — if we may be permitted to use the word in a world which is of the opinion that one opinion is just as “good” as another — seeks to connect the dots between the past, the present, and the future. Traditional Christian theology arcs back to the “goodness” of the beginning (creation) and anticipates the redemption of all things in light of the Christ-event – the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
As often happens, I heard Luke’s birth narrative this year in ways I had yet to put into words.
Could Luke himself have been arguing for what we now know in light of climate change: that we humans are of the same order as the cows, the chickens, goats, and sheep among whom Jesus of Nazareth was born? That is, we are not a superior species. We are not the exception to nature. And the redemption of reality itself includes the entirety of nature — the rescuing of nature from its despair and destruction by human hands.
So it was to poor shepherds, tending their flocks by night that the angel said,
“Do not be afraid; for see -I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Joyous Nowell, Merry Christmas, Happy Earth Day,
Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Christas Day, Dec. 25, 2016.