A Pachydermal Puzzle
An Advent Reflection
Christine Harris

It’s December of 2020.  Need I say more?  Probably not, but I feel compelled to write about yet another anomaly anyway.  

Last weekend I dutifully hauled into the house some Christmas decorations, in a brave attempt to make myself feel somewhat normal or at least a little better about the lunacy that is our existence right now.  I came across the olive wood nativity I had bought in Israel in 1985.  Hadn’t used it in years and years.  The figures are rough-carved, probably made by the thousands, and were a big tourist item when we were there.  I loved the weird, almost cartoon-like figures and used the set for years, but for some reason it’s remained boxed up for a long time.  I guess my tastes ran to the hand-painted ceramic set that was more beautiful and sophisticated.  I don’t know why the old carved set appealed to me this year, but it did, so I brought it in, unpacked it and set it up on top of the piano around the mountain dulcimer and Native American flute I keep there, running a strand of tiny lights among all the figures.  I like it.  It’s odd-looking and a strange combination, but I like it.

Thing is, though, wrapped up among the traditional Jesus, Mary and Joseph, wise men/shepherd/sheep/cow/donkey/camel entourage was a small carved elephant.  Yep.  An elephant.  It wasn’t part of the original set and I have no idea where it came from, but it somehow found its way in with the Holy Family et. al.

My first thought was “Well, this won’t look right.”  (And I’m sure it doesn’t, because of course there were no elephants anywhere near Bethlehem.  Still aren’t to my knowledge.)  But I just didn’t have the heart to banish the little guy back to the box.  He’s completely out of proportion to the rest of the animals, being hardly taller than one of the sheep, and way smaller than the donkey.  Maybe it’s a baby elephant.  Who knows?  At any rate, I placed him on the outskirts of the scene along with a shepherd, as if he had just fallen in with the herd and trailed along to the nativity with the sheep.  Truth be told, after what the shepherds had just witnessed, what with ‘heavenly hosts’ appearing out of nowhere and bright lights flashing and music blaring from the sky, I doubt if they would even have noticed an elephant bringing up the rear of the herd, and if they had, it wouldn’t have fazed them. 

So in my house there’s an elephant in attendance at the birth of Jesus.  Why not?  It is, after all, 2020…

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