THE BOYHOOD OF JESUS CHRIST
“In accordance with Jewish law the Child born of Mary was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth. In this way He became legally a member of the Chosen People of God. Though He was, as the prophet Zacharias says, ‘the angel of the covenant,’ nevertheless He submits to the Law of Moses. By undergoing the rite of circumcision He binds Himself to God and to a communion with the Chosen People of God.
THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE
It was also in obedience to the Law of Moses that Mary herself went to the Temple to offer two turtle doves or two young pigeons for her own legal purification. On the same occasion Mary and Joseph consecrated the Boy Jesus to god as the Mosaic Law prescribed.
SIMEON IN THE TEMPLE
As Mary and Joseph entered the Temple precincts with the Child Jesus they were met by an aged man called Simeon. It had been revealed to him that he should not die until he had seen the Christ of the Lord. When he saw the Child Jesus in Mary’s arms he was filled with the Spirit of God and he took the Child into his own arms and said:
THE ‘NUNC DIMITTIS’
‘Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and a glory for thy people Israel’ (Luke 2:29-32).
‘THY SOUL A SWORD SHALL PIERCE’
The aged Simeon is filled with the spirit of prophecy and he sees that the Child will bring God’s blessings not only to the Chosen People of Israel but also to the other nations of the world. But he foresees not only glorious things. He foresees also pain and tragedy. Turning to Mary he says: ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’ (Luke 2:34-35).
ANNA IN THE TEMPLE
At the same time a holy widow named Anna approached the Child. Moved also by the Spirit of God, she recognised Him as the Saviour of the world. To all who were interested in redemption she cried out that this Child was the long-awaited Deliverer.
From the very beginning then the Child Jesus appears as a mysterious figure. He will be a glory to His own race, to Israel. He will bring the light of divine truth to the Gentiles. He will bring redemption and deliverance to the world. But He will also be contradicted by many, and so He will cause many to rise in redemption while others, contradicting Him, fall.
THE THREE MAGI
Some time after the dedication in the Temple occurs the incident of the Magi. We do not know for certain who the Magi were. The early Christians believed them to be priests of the Persian religion. Some have thought that they came from Arabia. Others hold that they were kings from the East. It seems probable that they were at least men who were aware of the Messianic expectations of the Jews. They knew that the Jews were expecting the advent of some great king.
KING HEROD BECOMES VERY SUSPICIOS
Having observed in the sky a new star (perhaps a comet), they associated this new star with the coming of the expected king to Israel. Following the star, they arrived in Jerusalem and inquired the whereabouts of the new-born king. The news of their quest reached the ears of Herod the Great. Herod was always suspicious of plots to seize his throne and, no doubt, saw in these inquiries the result of some plot to dethrone him. He sent for the Magi. On learning the nature of their mission he sent for the chief priests and the Scribes and asked them where the expected Messias was to be born.
BETHLEHEM, ROYAL DAVID’S CITY
The priests and the Scribes, who were well versed in the Sacred Books of Israel, remembered the prophecy of Micheas [Micah] and told the king: ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it is written through the prophet, ‘And thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Juda, art by no means least among the princes of Juda; for from thee shall come forth a leader who shall rule my people Israel” (Matthew 2:5-6, cf. Micah 5:2).
Herod told the Magi where the Child might be found. He also asked them to bring word to him when they had found the Child so that he also might go to worship Him.
GOLD, FRANKINCENSE AND MYRRH
The Magi went to Bethlehem and found the star standing over the place where the Child was. They worshipped the Child, giving Him presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh. While they slept later, they were warned by God not to return to Herod.
THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT
After their departure Joseph was also warned in a dream to take the Child and to flee into Egypt because Herod intended to kill the Child. Heeding the warning, Joseph, Mary and the Child fled into Egypt.
THE HOLY INNOCENTS
Herod, when the Magi did not return, was very angry. He sent his soldiers to Bethlehem with order to kill all male children two years old or younger they might find there. In this way he hoped to destroy any possible threat to his own rule.
THE HOLY FAMILY RETURNS FROM EXILE
After Herod’s death in 4 B.C. an angel told Joseph in a dream that there was no longer any danger to the Child and they might return in safety to their own land. Joseph, thus counselled by the angel, returned with Mary and Jesus to their homeland and to Nazareth. In this way God Himself created a parallel between the history of Jesus the Saviour and the history of the Chosen People. As God had called them out of the land of Egypt, so He also calls His Son out of Egypt. St Matthew noticed this resemblance long ago and wrote that in this way there was ‘fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’ ‘ (Matthew 2:15; cf. Hosea 11:1).
THE HIDDEN LIFE
It was at Nazareth that Jesus spent the most of His life. Very few details of the early life of Jesus are known to us. St Luke tells us that at Nazareth the Child grew and became strong. He was full of wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him.
JESUS AGED TWELVE GOES MISSING
It is also St Luke who tells of one significant incident in the early years of Jesus. When Jesus was twelve years of age He went up to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph to celebrate the feast of Passover. When Joseph and Mary were returning to Nazareth they discovered that Jesus was not with the caravan. They went back to Jerusalem to seek Him.
THE FINDING OF THE CHILD JESUS IN THE TEMPLE
On the third day they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers of the Law. As St Luke tells us, Jesus was listening to the doctors of the Law and asking them questions, and in His turn answering the questions put to Him. The bystanders were astounded at His answers.
It is permissible to see here a manifestation of the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus. It is not necessary, and it might even be degrading to Jesus, to imagine that He was deliberately displaying His knowledge to the discomfiture of the learned doctors of the Law gathered in the Temple. It is enough to note that at the age of twelve Jesus appears sufficiently versed in the Law of Moses to speak intelligently and impressively to those who were expert in their interpretation of the Law.
‘MY FATHER’S BUSINESS’
What is more important is the fact that on this occasion Jesus shows that He is aware of the fact that He is to perform a great work for God, His Father. When Mary says to Him, ‘Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold, thy father and I have been seeking thee and sorrowing,’ Jesus answers: ‘How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ (Luke 2:48-49).
A PUZZLING ANSWER
This answer must have seemed strange to the rabbis with whom Jesus had been conversing. It was not understood, as St Luke tells us, by Mary and Joseph. If it were only the answer of a very clever boy who enjoyed the experience of conversing on equal terms with the venerated exponents of the Law of Moses, then it would bear an air of unfilial smartness. But St Luke – even Jesus Himself – seems to be saying something more than this. He speaks of the affairs of God as ‘my Father’s business.’ This seems to intimate that Jesus is aware of the fact that He is, in a special way, the Son of God.
HOMELY AND SIMPLE IMAGES
Yet, despite His consciousness of His special relation to God the Father, St Luke tells us that after this incident Jesus returned with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth and was subject to them. At Nazareth Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men.
It is proper to suppose that at Nazareth Jesus showed the same interest in learning the Law of Moses as He had shown in the Temple at Jerusalem. Moreover it is most probable that He learned the craft of carpentering, which was the trade followed by Joseph, His foster father. Like the other people of the locality He probably spoke Aramaic, the language of the region, and possibly Greek and Hebrew. Nazareth was situated in a region of farm labourers and vine dressers. Later on we find Him associated with fishermen in Galilee. From all these sources He later drew the homely and simple images which He used with such telling effect in His parables.
Thus, for some thirty years Jesus lived in a small village waiting for the moment appointed by God His Father for the beginning of the work of redemption.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959