Jesus our brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude;
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, strong 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 rd.
“I,” said the sheep with the curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm.
He word my coat on Christmas morn,
I,” said the sheep with the curly horn.
“I,” said the dove from 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 rafters high.
And 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.
This Children’s Carol may go back as far as the 12th century. It is a meditation on the animals that may have been present at Jesus’ birth. What would each of them have given as a birthday gift to the Christ child?
We don’t know for sure that Joseph and Mary traveled on a donkey, but they might have. The Bible doesn’t say anything about cattle, though Jesus was laid in a manger, which was a feed bin for cattle. The shepherds were tending sheep, but did they bring them to see Jesus? Were there doves in the rafters? We don’t know.
But there is a biblical tradition of animals serving God. A donkey challenged Balaam to obey God, and ravens fed Elijah in the wild. A great fish swallowed Jonah whole and delivered him back to shore. The psalms speak freely of all creation joining in the praise of God, and Romans says that all things await their final redemption. The future of donkeys, cattle, sheep, and doves is somehow wrapped up with ours, and so they would have good reason to honor the Messiah’s birth.