Tuesday, December 8: The Friendly Beasts

Authorship:    Though once thought to be an English carol, this song originally hails from a 12th century Latin song “Orientis Partibus” which first appeared in France and is usually attributed to Pierre de Corbeil, Bishop of Sens.

Lyrics:

Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.”
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

“I,” said the cow all white and red
“I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”
“I,” said the cow all white and red.

“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

“I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.

Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Emmanuel,
The gift he gave Emmanuel.

“I,” was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Emmanuel,
The gift he gave Emmanuel.
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

Reflection: by Ben Simpson, Minister to Students

“The Friendly Beasts” is one of my favorite Christmas carols. When our students considered which song they would offer for the UBC Christmas musical, whimsically, I suggested it. To my surprise, the students said, “Why not?”

This carol dates to the 12th century, and is thought to have originated in France. It tells a story, from an uncommon angle. When we think of Christmas, we slide into the role of Mary or Joseph, the shepherds or the magi.  We do not first think of the animals.

Luke tells us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. No guest room was available. The Bible is silent on which animals may or may not have been present near that manger. But without our imaginings of sheep, cattle, a donkey, and other animals, what parts would our children play in our Christmas pageants?

In “The Friendly Beasts,” the characters are the donkey, cow, sheep, and dove. They give gifts of transport, a place to rest, a blanket, and a lullaby.  Their gifts were given with joy to “Jesus our brother, strong and good;” to “Emmanuel,” meaning, “God with us.”

When we remember the gift of the incarnation, we often reflect first on what it means for us, for human beings.

But we are slow to remember the words of Romans 8:19-21, that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

We are slow to remember, as Paul writes in Colossians 1, that in Christ, God was reconciling all things to himself, things in heaven and on earth. We are slow to remember that redemption encompasses all God has made.

In Psalm 96:11-13, it is written:

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.

When I hear the words of “The Friendly Beasts,” I think of these passages from Scripture. Perhaps it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that the coming of Christ isn’t just good news forus, but for all God has made. And during the Advent season, we look forward with anticipation to the day he will come again, rejoicing, for “He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.”

Until that day, let us be found faithful, giving our gifts to Emmanuel.

 

Listen:

Sung by Sufjan Stevens, video by a child 

Garth Brooks Version

Pray:

Indeed, Lord, let us be found faithful, giving our gifts to Emmanuel. Amen.

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