The Ox, The Ass and the Shepherds
I just want to speak for a few minutes this morning about two elements of the Nativity Ikon – The Ox and Ass and the Shepherds. Now of course we may well say that there is no Ox and Ass in Luke’s account of the birth – indeed it is only in the 8th Century after the birth of Christ that we find any account of the birth of Jesus which includes them – but they were present much earlier in ikons of the birth of Jesus – So why are they there??
All through Advent I’ve emphasized our need to know the Old Testament texts if we are to understand Jesus’ birth – you see we may say it is all to do with the humility of Christ and there is no doubt something of that in this, but if we know the old testament then we will know that at the beginning of the Prophet Isaiah we hear these words ‘The Ox knows its owner and the donkey its masters crib but Israel does not know, my people do not understand’ – unlike his people, the Ox and the Donkey get it! He came to his own and his own knew him not . . . but the Ox and the Ass do
There is perhaps a little more here too though, for the word for Ox in Hebrew is similar to the word for Prince and the word for Donkey is similar to the word for Priest – The ox and the ass were Present at the birth of the newborn King, but the priests and princes of Israel weren’t
But what about the shepherds?? Again we may well think that they are there as a representation of Christ coming to the outsiders – shepherds were of no account in Palestine – but they weren’t meant to be – The word Shepherd was used of Kings and again Priests – God had called people to Shepherd his people Israel and they had been found wanting as all the prophets record over and over again – and of course we think again as we have been through advent about King David who was a . . . Shepherd
Ox and ass were present to him – the shepherds hearing the glad tidings of the angels, Ran to be present to him
But the Princes and Priests, the kings were not present to welcome their true King, the Lord and Saviour – the Christ
And what of us? Christmas it seems is one of those real Martha and Mary times – do you know what I mean? Martha distracted by her many tasks . . . oh there is So Much to do – we are SO excited – there is so much to look forward to! But are we Present to Him.
I used the illustration recently of the Christ child being at the eye of a storm – all of Bethlehem, indeed the whole Roman Empire is stirred into a great Storm of activity. And Christmas can seem just like that storm - And at the eye of the storm? A child is born “who is Christ the Lord, and this will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” And so the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger – the Prince of Peace at the eye of the storm. The shepherds, who are interestingly not caught up in all the census goings on – free to come and worship.
So where are we this Christmas time – distracted by many tasks – distracted by the excitement of it all – or in the eye of it present to the one who comes into the World, thought the world does not know him, to die on a cross and to be raised again and to be eternally Present. ‘The Lord is Here’ we will say in a few minutes. Are we?
Let us be quiet for a few moments, still our thoughts, even out thoughts of what we’ve just heard – for a holy miracle has taken place
Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord