Our nativity scene is nearly complete. Or is it? Are we in the scene? Do we allow ourselves to be invited into this scene & have our lives changed as a result? Are we engaging with what’s happening here?
I want to explore this by asking another important question: Why were there no penguins at the crib?
(1) It’s not their habitat.
David Attenborough reminded us that the majority of penguins don’t live near the south pole but in warmer, even tropical conditions. So it is not that Bethlehem wasn’t cold enough
But whether in the tropics or near the south pole penguins love water of which there isn’t much in Bethlehem.
Apparently penguins evolved from creatures that could fly at one point but they enjoyed the water so much that they grew heavy enough to “fly” speedily through the water,up to 40 miles/hour, if I remember right. But this meant they grew too heavy to fly through the air.
This could be the reason that some of us stay away from the crib. It’s not our habitat; we got used to living our lives in a certain way and we would be entirely outside our comfort zone if we did not make sure that we kept the crib and all that at a certain, maybe ironical, distance. And so we miss out – like the penguins.
But there may be another reason why the penguins were not there. I reckon if Mary had known about penguins, she would not have wanted any of these creatures anywhere near the crib.
Thanks to David Attenborough we have learned one or two other s h o c k i n g things about penguins. I mention just one:
(2) Penguins are potential kidnappers. For penguins, as for humans, there is a great deal of effort and risk involved in producing offspring but unlike humans penguins stand in long rows together all having little babies at about the same time. When a baby penguin does not survive the parental instinct is so great in penguins that they will steal the baby from other penguins if they can.
[We should not blame them for this – they are animals that cannot but follow their instincts and urges. To be able to say ‘No’ to our animal urges is probably a particular gift to humanity.]
If penguins had made the long journey to Bethlehem, they would surely have lost their children and then they might have tried to steal the baby from the crib!
And this is another way in which we might miss out on what is happening there. If, in effect, we steal the baby and turn the nativity of our Lord and Saviour into a kitschfest.
Jesus did not come to remain a baby that decorates a tree but to grow up a man and be hung on a tree to suffer the consequences of our rebellion against God, to break through death to resurrection life and reconcile us to God. We do not celebrate the birthday of a good man who is long dead but of someone who is very much alive and wants to be part of our lives.
This Christmas. Don’t be a penguin. Be there. Let yourself be invited into the big story in which all of our lives have a place.