Two of the three came home, one bubbling with excitement. I’m going to be the Virgin Mary in our Christmas show at school, she proclaimed. She looked at her brother who had stayed home with a stomach bug and announced, And YOU’RE going to be Joseph!
I looked at the third with anticipation. You? What are you going to be?
He looked down. Kicked at the floor. The donkey. I’m going to be the donkey.
I offered an enthusiastic excited response over all three wonderful roles even as my heart sank. It’s hard enough to be a triplet. Particularly with these two brothers fierce competition. (You read what happened over their first tooth coming out…) But I knew the donkey role was quite a blow to this one. He loves attention. In fact, if the two boys had chosen for themselves, the eldest would have gratefully accepted the role of the donkey so he could stay further from the limelight while the baby would have leapt at the chance to “star” as Joseph in the small school’s kindergarten nativity. (Which means the teacher is paying attention and doing exactly what she should be doing in casting characters.)
The roles were assigned on Tuesday before the Friday performance, thankfully, and nothing else was said.
Then, on Thursday night, with grandmothers coming in for the performance, the baby burst into tears at the dinner table. I don’t WANT to be the donkey. It’s not fair. Why do I have to be the donkey? I’m not going to do it.
Oh, I understand that. If I can’t star in the play, then I don’t want to be in it!
I shared with my sweet boy the importance of the donkey. How Mary wouldn’t have made it to Bethlehem to deliver Baby Jesus in exactly the spot prophesied if a donkey hadn’t carried her there. How Jesus Himself rode a donkey into Jerusalem, through throngs of people celebrating Him, the week before He died on the cross (Matthew 21). Jesus needed that donkey to deliver Him to the place where He would save the world.
The play went off without a hitch. He sang every song. He sat right next to the manger. His face was red and I could tell he was embarrassed about his role, but he stood and bowed and sang. One of many important life lessons we’ll all learn together about our role in the play of life.
This is what I didn’t even know at the time until I started researching donkeys in the Bible: donkeys were regularly the carrier of hope. Donkeys were the delivery vehicle to the promise. In Genesis 22, a donkey carries Abraham and Isaac as they set off for Abraham to offer the ultimate sacrifice, his son. God saves Abraham at the last moment, but the donkey carried Abraham in obedience to the altar. A donkey carried Joseph’s brothers to Egypt in Genesis 43 to a place of reconciliation and provision and forgiveness after a betrayal ripped apart their family and famine decimated the land. In Exodus 4, a donkey delivered Moses and his family back to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from oppression of Pharaoh. Balaam’s donkey saw an angel of the Lord and SPOKE to Balaam to keep him from continuing on a course directly opposed to the one the Lord asked him to follow in Numbers 22. A donkey delivered David to Saul’s service after he was anointed to become the next king in I Samuel 16. In 2 Kings 4, the donkey delivered the Shunammite woman to Elisha in order to bring him back to raise her son from the dead.
You see, the donkey often carries the rider to the promises of God.
But it’s no fun to be the donkey.
Particularly not in our culture.
We want to be the person riding in on the donkey. The limelight or accolades or, at the very least, the easier journey. We either want the lead part in a cast of thousands or want to avoid getting dirty and hot and uncomfortable.
No one vies for the “lesser” role of the donkey.
Yet, that is the role we are created for if we believe what the Bible says. We are created to move forward in such a way that the things we do point the limelight back to our God in Heaven. If the light trains on us, then we’ve failed in our mission.
It’s a hard lesson to learn at six. But it’s not much easier to learn at 40. In this Christmas season, when the rhetoric often focuses on individual wants and wishes, I know I need to remember instead we are called to decrease as He increases (John 3:30).
Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matt. 5:16
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. I Peter 4:11
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21