This great reflection comes from the book, The Blessing of Christmas by Pope Benedict XVI.

Who recognized him, and who failed to recognize him?

But do we really recognize him? When we place the ox and ass beside the crib, we must remember the whole passage in Isaiah, which is not only good news—in the sense of the promise of a future knowledge—but also a judgment pronounced on contemporary blindness. The ox and ass have knowledge, “but Israel does not know, my people does not understand.”

Who is the ox and ass today, and who is “my people” without understanding? How can we recognize the ox and the ass? How can we recognize “my people”? And why does the lack of reason recognize, while reason is blind?

In order to discover the answer, we must return with the Fathers of the Church to the first Christmas. Who recognized him? And who failed to recognize him? And why was this so?

The one who failed to recognize him was Herod, who did not even understand when they told him about the child: instead, he was blinded all the more deeply by his lust for power and the accompanying paranoia (Mt 2:3). Those who failed to recognize him were “all Jerusalem with him” (ibid.). Those who failed to recognize him were the “people in soft garments”—those with a high social position (Mt 11:8). Those who failed to recognize him were the learned masters who were experts in the Bible, the specialists in biblical interpretation who admittedly knew the correct passage in Scripture but still failed to understand anything (Mt 2:6).

Those who recognized him were the “ox and the ass” (in comparison to these men of prestige): the shepherds, the Magi, Mary and Joseph. But could things have been otherwise? Those with a high social position are not in the stable where the child Jesus lies: that is where the ox and the ass have their home.

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because our garments are much too soft and we are much too clever? Do we get entangled to such an extent in learned exegesis of the Scriptures, in demonstrations of the inauthenticity or the historical accuracy of individual passages, that we become blind to the child himself and perceive nothing of him? Are we so much “in Jerusalem”, in the palace, at home in ourselves and in our arrogance and our paranoia, that we cannot hear at night the voice of the angels and then set out to adore the child?

In this night, then, the faces of the ox and the ass look at us with a question: My people does not understand, but do you perceive the voice of your Lord? When we place the familiar figures in the crib scene, we ought to ask God to give our hearts the simplicity that discovers the Lord in the child—just as Francis once did in Greccio. For then we, too, might experience what Celano relates about those who took part in Midnight Mass in Greccio—and his words echo closely Saint Luke’s words about the shepherds on the first Christmas night—each one went home full of joy

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