When you were young, did anyone ever tell you that animals can talk at midnight on Christmas? I don’t remember who told me, but I do remember looking expectantly at the family Dachshund for several years. For the record he never said anything, at least not in a human language.
A quick internet search didn’t find much about the origins of this legend. A little surprising and frustrating in this day of easy on-line research. But that does give us the space to speculate and theologize a bit.
There is a longing in children to talk with animals. What else explains the Doctor Dolittle stories? What else explains the long one sided talks with a patient dog or cat. ( Or horse or hamster)
I wonder if that longing isn’t the remnants of the memory of the way things were supposed to be. Somehow as children we know that our relationship with animals is not what is should be. A child should be able to put her hand near the asp. We should not flee from a bear or run from a lion. As children we long for the harmony that we know is missing from the world.
The missing harmony begins to be set right at Christmas. Long before we have the theological language to describe it we know that when Jesus is born, God come among us, the healing has begun. The Good News is here. At the birth of Jesus, the incarnation, heaven and earth are joined. Angels and shepherd sing. And legend suggests that the animals joined in praise. The world set right for a moment.
The underlying assumption of the legend is that the animals know God and are in relationship with God. Until we get talked out of it, many of us start with the very Biblical assumption that all of creation, everything and everyone, can praise God. Animals in their animal way praise God and on Christmas we humans may be given a glimpse of the reality of animals.
I’m a grown person now, well past the age of childhood dreams. But yet, I catch myself each Christmas looking at my cats and hoping this is the Christmas they speak. Hoping that this is the Christmas that the world is set right. May it be so…