Christmas Animals Advent Series: The Donkey

Advent has begun, and we turn toward the Bethlehem manger. What new Christmas insights can we discover from the old, beautiful story of Jesus’ birth? In Christian tradition, the manger animals point to some wonderful truths. This week, let’s meditate on the manger’s donkey.

A donkey carries the load of another.
A donkey is a burden carrier.

Did Mary Ride a Donkey?

Actually, the donkey is not mentioned in the biblical Christmas story. But early church history established the animal in art and drama. Commonsense indicates that a pregnant Mary would need transportation to travel some 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Even if Joseph and Mary were poor, it is not unreasonable to believe they would find a donkey in their village to borrow for their journey. Carpenter Joseph probably used a donkey many times to carry his wood.

The photo above from the movie The Nativity Story shows Joseph and Mary on a Jerusalem street as they travel the final six miles to Bethlehem. Do you think Jesus stirred in Mary’s womb while in the Holy City of his destiny? Some thirty years later he would ride on a donkey colt among waving palm branches and the shouts of Hosanna.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV).

Donkeys like buddies
Donkeys fare better with a  buddy (courtesy of Pixabay).

The Talking Donkey

There are only two animals that speak in Scripture: the garden serpent and Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22). Balaam is a nasty prophet for hire—so evil in leading people away from God that he is mentioned in 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; and Revelation 2:14. Also, the prophet is so blind to God’s truth that he cannot see what his donkey sees on the road of disobedience. Balaam’s donkey acts like a typical donkey. He stops when he senses danger, he pushes against a rock wall for defense, and he refuses to budge. Balaam beats his donkey mercilessly three times for not following his lead. During the third beating, God opens the animal’s mouth to speak to Balaam, reminding him that he, the donkey,  has been a faithful servant to his master.

Although Balaam is corrupt, God opens his mouth to speak blessings rather than curses on the Israelites. Among those blessings is a future Christmas vision and prophecy:

…The oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High,

who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel…” (Numbers 24:17, ESV).

Stubborn Donkey Stereotype

People who love donkeys protest the saying, “Stubborn as a donkey.” Equine expert Ben Hart says, “A donkey knows plenty of things, but he’s wary of things he hasn’t seen before, things he doesn’t know about. A donkey isn’t good at solving problems that are acceptable to humans. Our problem is that we don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are….A donkey’s nature isn’t to be stubborn or difficult, but purely to learn and survive” (from The Wisdom of Donkeys–Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World by Andy Merrifield).

The Donkey Legend

If you look at the donkey’s back you will discover darker fur in the shape of a cross. Legend says the Palm Sunday donkey could not look at the horror of Jesus on the cross. When the animal turned his back, the cross’s shadow was lovingly tattooed upon him.

The dark brown markings in the form of a cross on a donkey's back inspired a Christian legend.
The dark brown markings in the form of a cross on a donkey’s back inspired a Christian legend.

I never thought much about donkeys until the past two weeks, but I now have a greater appreciation for them. Donkeys are sturdy, dependable, good listeners with their big ears, affectionate, and loyal. Perhaps these are qualities we can cultivate in ourselves during this first week of Advent. And maybe, like a donkey braying its ridiculously loud “Eeyore, eeyore, eeyore!” we can joyfully shout out too:

Joy to the World

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Lyrics by Isaac Watts


The movie jacket of The Nativity Story shows the main actors,--Joseph, Mary, Herod, Herod's son, and a star and Roman soldiers on white horses in the background.
The Nativity Story, 2006, stars Keisha Castle-Hughes and Shohreh Aghdashioo. Rated PG, it is a good choice for older children with the warning that the Bethlehem massacre is short and intense.
This book cover shows a donkey with a daisy in his mouth.
I enjoyed reading this book Flash by Rachel Anne Ridge (Tyndale, 2015). The book jacket says Flash is about “the homeless donkey who taught me about life, faith, and second chances.”

I Am Thankful for You!

It’s getting busy in the Boyll household as we rev up for Thanksgiving and Advent. My thoughts are more on a cranberry recipe than deeper musings. But since thoughts are whirling, it seems the perfect time to say, “I am thankful for you.” Trust me. I am not trying for a Hallmark expression here. I just really am grateful.

Thankful for Family and Friends

Baby looks at happy Grandpa
I am thankful for experiencing moments like these!

Life is rich with family, old friends, and new friends. There is at least one baby coming in the spring, who I gratefully look forward to holding for the first time. There are so many joys and sorrows from the yesterdays that are now part of my tapestry.  I am grateful for all the work behind me, as this handiwork keeps expanding as it is spun. My life, like most, has some remarkable patterns, but often it is so ordinary. Still, I believe all of it is valued by God. For his mindfulness and care, I give thanks.

Thankful for the Harvest Table

I am also grateful for the harvest table. Friends Keiko and Jeanine in the lead picture above actually do harvest cranberries in southeastern Massachusetts. But they harvest like I do—as visitors to a family farm. For this farmer’s daughter, who never liked dirt on her hands, I am grateful for the bread and pasta that come from grain cultivated in our country’s Bread Basket—especially in North Dakota where my brother, two nephews, and several cousins farm. Their work requires lots of planning, equipment, labor, and expense.

Thankful for All Those Invisible Faces

A nicely roasted bird sits in its blue roaster ready for carving.
A properly roasted turkey out of the oven is a challenge I rarely accomplish, but we consistently gobble up leftovers.

This labor applies to all of our Thanksgiving foods. Sometimes, at our table, we serve wild rice casserole or stuffing. Native Americans in Minnesota provide this special rice. Via factory, train, truck, and grocery store, Libby’s pumpkin and corn come to our home from many contractors across the U.S. There’s a jar of apple butter from Yates’ Apple Farm in Michigan that soon will be opened.

The turkeys that hit the market at this time of year is a mind-boggling gobble. At our house we consume organic and generic poultry.

Dancing turkey on stilts.
To me, this Colorado Springs’ sculpture looks like a dancing turkey on stilts.

What they have in common is that I am very grateful someone else did the butchering! I am also grateful for a great glass of wine on Thanksgiving. This year, most likely a California vintage will be the host’s choice. There are so many people involved in bringing the food to our table! I appreciate and thank God for all those hundreds of invisible faces.

Generous Spirits and Pie

Of course, there are many other blessings I am privileged to enjoy. I pray I won’t be stingy with sharing my bounty—not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. Jesus said in Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” May I, and you, respond wisely with what is placed in our hands and hearts. May we have generous spirits, even as we enjoy our pie!

Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful for you!


Below is an interesting five-minute You Tube selection on how cranberries are cultivated, which includes a berry sauce recipe!


Cow Flies and the Naked Lady

Have you ever experienced nature’s violent turn, just when you thought all was tranquil in the great outdoors? I am thinking about cow flies and a naked lady. Here’s the story:

Beginning on a Country Road

It started on an isolated highway along the Rocky Mountain Front Range. I zoomed by a herd of 50 cattle, noticing that all the mommas were black and the calves were brown. They were lying contentedly in the corner of a pasture, near a watering hole, with no bull in sight.

The herd looked so darn cute, and the color contrast struck me as unusual. Photo op? With no other car around, I made a U-turn and parked along the ditch.

All eyes were upon me as I got out of the vehicle, leaving the door open. The cows chewed cud as I clicked and thought, Wow, their manure sure smells potent for meadow cattle.

Eight-year-old blond-hat Macaulay Culkin's holds hands to face, eyes wide and distressed, and mouth opened in an "ah" sound on the dvd cover of the movie Home Alone. Smaller images of the two burglars are behind him.
Eight-year-old Macaulay Culkin’s unforgettable verbal “aaaaahhhhh” in the 1990 movie Home Alone.

I tromped back to the car, and then I noticed them. Tiny flies ornamented my clothes and many dotted the window. I didn’t scream outloud, but have you ever had a primal Aaaaaahhhh in your thoughts? Yep! That was me.

What to do?

Driving Like a Maniac!

I jumped into the car and slammed the door. I touched my hair and was grossed out to feel hard, little flies. Aaaaaahhhh!

Flies on flowers
Imagine hundreds of these little flies in your car and on you!

Quickly, I turned on the ignition, fastened the seatbelt, and pulled onto the road. I accelerated in panic and opened all the windows as black specks went spinning for the ride of their lives.

Meanwhile, I flicked my hair with one hand and tried not to drive like a maniac into the ditch. It felt like a scene from a horror movie where a crazed old lady head-bangs in a death dance.

For 15 minutes, I drove with one hand while the other hand squished bugs with a tissue. Oh, why did these creatures have exoskeletal plates that reminded me of soft shell crabs? To make the driving more distracting, the little guys kept crawling in and out of car crevices. I rolled electronic windows up and down, up and down. Aaaaaahhhh!

How Now, Cow Flies?

Finally, I could sigh, seeing only a few bugs around me. Visible survivors had migrated to the rear window.

But this ordeal was not over. I had to figure out how to let myself into the house without a gang of flies. Surely, subversive one were still on squirmy me! It took the rest of the drive home to figure out what to do.

Here is the protocol, just in case you ever need it:

>Drive into garage.

>Close garage door.

>Strip to birthday suit.

>Run quickly into house and throw clothes into washer.

>Run quickly to bathroom and get in shower.

>Finally, dress and have drink of choice.

Moral of the story: Nature has a dark side. Pay attention or pay the consequences.

And by the way, the cow pictures were crap and went spinning into oblivion–just like those cow flies.

The Ends

The Ends