Homily — Christmas MMVII

Homily — Christmas MMVII

Nativity Scene in my parish

Long before the Magi arrive, and well before the Shepherds begin to make their way to Bethlehem, and even before the Angels start singing the first notes of the Gloria, we find very early on that first Christmas night, alongside of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, two lucky creatures adoring the Baby Jesus before everyone else does: a cow, and a donkey.

The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah begins his long book of prophecies of the coming of the Messiah by saying in Isaiah 1 verse 3:”The ox knows his owner and the donkey knows his master’s crib.”

And our Lord Jesus begins his fulfillment of every prophecy and every promise of the Father by being born in a manger, a feeding trough, and by being first worshiped by these two animals.

Let us journey in spirit, then, to that Bethlehem cave, very early that first Christmas night, and make our arrival before the Shepherds, and gaze in on the wonderful things that are taking place.

There in the candlelight and starlight, we see the ox! There he is; look, how he pokes his big black head down into the manger, to get a good close look at the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, careful not to hit Mary or Joseph with his big pointy horns!

The Ox in Scripture and elsewhere has always been a symbol of strength, perseverance, and virtue. But the Ox wasn’t born a gentle giant. In fact, no ox is born as an ox. Rather, every ox starts out life as a wild and dangerous bull.

But after the master has taken the young bull, and patiently, week after week, trained him and taught him to take up (the Master’s) yoke and learn from Him, this wild and unpredictable bull is slowly transformed into a mature, intelligent creature, an Ox, who is just as big and strong as he was before, but now also much wiser, much better able to use that God given strength for the good of others and himself.

And perhaps the Ox was the first to adore the baby Jesus to remind us that you and I first need to change from being wild Bulls to being tamed Oxes, before we can kneel worthily at the Manger. What’s wild and strong in us must be tamed more and more each day by Jesus our Master, so that we may use all our gifts and talents to serve God and others, and not our own selfish pursuits.

And let us remember this Christmas, that no matter how wild we’ve been in the past, the Baby Jesus is the Divine Matador that can convert the wildest of Bulls into gentlest of Oxes, who adore at the Manger in Bethlehem alongside of Mary, and Joseph, and the donkey.

And so we turn our gaze now upon this other privileged creature, who got a first row seat and a private showing of God’s Son even before the Angels of Heaven got to see Him. There he is, bathed in the glow of Christmas light, poking his head, with it’s big ears and big teeth, down into the manger, to get a good look at the Baby Jesus sleeping, there on the hay.

Unlike it’s companion, the Ox, the donkey isn’t that impressive of an animal. Try as it might, the donkey will always be in the minor leagues, always living in the shadow of its bigger and better cousin, the Horse. And whether rightly or wrongly, the donkey has also for centuries had a bad reputation of being stubborn and foolish.

But maybe that’s exactly why the donkey is there at the Creche: to remind us that, no matter how lowly and unimpressive we are, and no matter how much much of a stubborn and dumb, um, donkey we can at times be, there’s a place for us also at this Manger in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread, and we shouldn’t be so stubborn as to not go there every week to be fed by Jesus the Bread of Life.

And even if we’re more the lowly donkey type than the strong ox type, we should remember that Jesus was carried by a lowly donkey when He triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and He wants us donkeys of today to carry Him into this world we live in, so that He may continue His Triumph over sin and death in our world today.
And so, on this Holy Day of Christ’s birth, and throughout this Christmas Season, may we take our place alongside our two animal friends, and with them enjoy some quality quiet-time, adoring the Baby Jesus, with his Mother and St. Joseph, before the sheep, and camels, and shepherds, and wise men get there, and the place starts to get crowded.

Comments are closed.