Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Grumpy Old Ox and Other Thoughts About the Nativity

We were asked to review The Grumpy Old Ox by Anthony DeStefano and I jumped at the chance because he is one of my favorite children's book authors.

The Grumpy Old Ox is such a sweet children's book that I am happy to add to our Advent collection.  The Ox is a blind, lame, mean old ox who lives in the barn behind the famous inn that had no room where Jesus was born.  The inn's owner was also cruel and heartless, which had rubbed off on the attitude of the ox, and honestly was something I had never thought about before.  I always assumed the inn was full and Joseph got turned away simply because of that, but this book points out that the owner must have known Mary was about to give birth and left them out in the cold without any food or comfortable items.  Is that true?  I don't know, but it is something to ponder. 

When the ox sees Mary and Joseph with nothing, forced to give birth in the barn, he feels compassion for their hardships.  He pushes the manger over to Mary for a bed for Jesus, and he shares his water with her.  When shepherds and kings and other animals show up, the ox realizes that this baby must be really special, perhaps even a king!  When the holy family leaves, the ox misses the love that was shared in the barn and decides to change his mean ways.  After a long sleep, the ox woke and realized he could see and his lame leg was healed.  He knew it must have been a gift from the little king, and as he exclaims that he can now see, at last, we all understand he is not just talking about his vision.  Jesus had transformed him spiritually as well.  The Grumpy Old Ox is an adorable story of conversion with lots to talk about once the book was finished.  We loved it.

 Whenever I have envisioned the nativity of Our Lord, I think I romanticized the whole thing.  A cute couple in a warm lit up barn, surrounded by adoring animals where Jesus lay in a manger.  But there was so much more to it than that.  Mary and Joseph had to endure the fear of traveling while pregnant, to an unknown place with nowhere to stay.  Giving birth alone without family around, knowing the baby you are carrying is God, yet still being treated as if you are nobodies.  Having been through labor so many times, I know the normal anxiety that comes with delivering a child, and I have a team of medical professionals at my side!  I can't imagine understanding what was to come and feeling so unprepared for it to happen.  But Mary is a much holier woman than I (duh!) and uses the whole story to teach us a lesson (or two or a hundred).  I read recently a reflection that Mary, if she wasn't sinless, could have easily told Joseph to step aside, or chastised him, after he failed to find a room at the inn, and taken care of business herself (as I imagine I would!).  Instead, Our Lady was such an example of gentleness and peacefully trusting in God's plans that she just quietly and obediently rolled with it.  Her whole life was a series of yesses to doing God's will, and saying no to her own desires.  Anyway, there are lots to think about in this upcoming Christmas season, and reading this sweet story with rhymes, beautiful illustrations, and a powerful message of conversion is a great way to start.

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