Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Nativity

(Fra Angelico, from the Convent of San Marco, Florence)

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)
I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length
Give me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Savior where I looked for hay;
So may my beastlike folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence.

--C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Until tonight I had never seen this poem (found on Kendall Harmon's blog.)

And I just learned this Christmas that the reason the ox and ass are always part of the nativity scene, is that the early church saw the following verse as prophetic of Christ's coming: "The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand" (Isaiah 1:3), and so Francis of Assisi brought an ox and an ass into his manger scene, which started the whole tradition of nativity scenes and creches.

I knew the bit about St. Francis and find it fascinating that he was such an early believer in "visual aids" for teaching, but the connection to the Isaiah passage was new to me.

How easy it is to think that I am not slow, dull, stubborn, or foolish--or at least not to admit that I am. Easy to forget that I have strayed and do stray. How I hope to grow in the ability to know my Owner and Master, to know and understand what is knowable and understandable. I pray that we all may do just that in the coming year.

Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

A couple of funny little connections here... The detail of the ox and ass in the background was in a comptetition in a Sunday newspaper someon brought me from England a couple of weeks ago, where they show a detail from a painting and you need to recognise it. I didn't know it at the time.

And today I've been singing a little scrap of the carol, which I love, 'Tomorrow shall be my dancing day', which goes 'between and ox and a silly poor ass...'

'Silly' used to mean simple, or saintly, I think. The county of Sussex where my mum grew up was known as Silly Sussex because of its great number of beautiful parish churches... qualities can be transformed.