The First Joyful Mystery The AnnunciationSt. Luke the Evangelist relates, in the first chapter of his gospel, the event in which Mary is told of her special mission:
In the 6th month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary (v. 26-27).
The Angel's GreetingComing to her he said, "Hail, favored one! Blessed are you among women. The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be (v. 28-29).
The angel gives Mary a new name, as the Lord often does with those He has called to a major task in His Plan (ex. Gen 17:5, 15; 32:29; Mt 16:18). This name of hers is variously translated: 'full of grace,' 'gracious,' or 'highly favored one.' Each conveys the idea that Mary was especially chosen by God for this purpose and given the grace and favor she needed to carry it through.
"The Lord is with you," echoes the greeting of the angel to Gideon as he is called to be the champion of the Lord to free the Israelites from the oppression of Midian (Jdg 6:11-18).
This greeting also brings to the mind of those familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, the story of Judith whom God sent into the enemy camp to behead Holofernes without compromising her virtue (Jdt 13:20). Uzziah commended her saying: "Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the chief of our enemies. Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who tell of the might of God." (Jdt 13:18-19) This is a marvelous story of God's might shown through a woman. We will examine the story in a later issue.
The Good NewsThen the angel said to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son. You shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom where will be no end." (v. 30-33)
St. Thomas Aquinas comments: "It may perhaps in the first instant of reflection appear shocking to our ideas, that God should dwell in a human body; but does not the sun emit its rays into all kinds of places without any detriment to its purity. How much more would the Sun of justice, assuming a most pure body, formed of the purest blood of the spotless Virgin not only remain free from even the least stain Himself, but even impart additional sanctity to His virgin Mother."
This announcement carries the full weight of the scriptures on its back. Here is the Messiah that has been promised throughout the ages! Nathan declared the promise to David:
I will fix a place for My people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance...I will raise up an heir after you sprung from your loins and I will make his kingdom firm...I will be a Father to him and he shall be a son to Me...I will not withdraw My favor from him...Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before Me: Your throne shall stand firm forever (2 Sm 7:10, 12, 14-17). This promise echoes in Psalm 89.
Psalm 72 gives a description of the reign of the King of kings. Isaiah expresses for us the fulfillment of the promise in one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible which we hear at Christmas: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shown. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, As they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed as on the day of Midian. For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder, dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God Hero, Father Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David's throne and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgement and justice, both now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this (Is 9:1-6). Jesus declared that He is the fulfillment of these promises as He gave the disciples the great Commission: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all that I have command you...I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt 28:18-20)
The Power of GodMary said to the angel, "How can this be since I have no relations with a man?"
The angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren, for nothing will be impossible with God." (v. 34-37)
Isaiah tells of the birth of the Messiah: "Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." (Is 7:14) He goes on to tell of the desolation which results from the rejection of the word of God, but not without hope, as we have seen above.
Mary's question of the angel holds a different tone than others, who have doubted, but who received the same reassurance (Gen 18:12-14, Lk 1:18-19). Truly, nothing is impossible with the Lord!
He made heaven and earth and all their inhabitants (Gen 1). He has the power to bring life into a womb which has passed its years of health, and to one which is virginal. He can bring salvation to even those who are most distracted by worldly things (Mt 19:16-26, Mk 10:17-27, Lk 18:18-27). He can change water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) He can take a child's lunch and feed a large crowd (Mt 14:15-21, 15:32-39, Mk 6:34-44, 8:1-10, Lk 9:10-17, Jn 6:1-15). He can heal the sick and crippled. He can forgive our sins. He can change bread and wine into His body and blood (Mt 16:16-28, Mk 14: 22-23, Lk 22:17-20) in order to provide for us food which brings us eternal life (Jn 6:35, 48-58)
Mary's FiatMary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord be it done onto me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her. (v. 38) A handmaid is a female servant or attendant. With all modesty and humility of heart and mind, Mary consented to the divine will; in that moment the Redeemer and Savior of the world was conceived.
Abigail presents herself as the handmaid of David as she intercedes for Nabal (1 Sam 25:24-35). David later makes her his queen (1 Sam 25:39-42). The term comes into use again as Joab strives to reconcile David with his son Absalom (2 Sam 14).
Another Side of the StoryWe can also look at the event from Joseph's point of view:
Now, this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, since he was a righteous man yet unwilling to expose her to shame decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said. "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Behold the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel." which means "God is with us." When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son and he named him Jesus. (Mt 1:18-25) Joseph is presented as wholly obedient to the Word of God, as well. He is twice more given instructions in a dream (Mt 2:13, 19). He was a 'righteous man' who was well versed in the scriptures. It is entirely possible that Joseph was familiar with the prophesies which Matthew quotes and grew in his understanding of them as Jesus grew "in wisdom and age and grace with God and man." (Lk 2:40) One wonders what form the scripture study of the Holy Family took. they obviously took much time in this endeavor as Jesus displayed much knowledge in this area (Lk 2:46-50, 4:2-13) although His understanding is much deeper than that of those of us who are only human (Lk 24:13-27). With the help of the Holy Spirit and the Church, we too are called to an ever deepening understanding of the Word of God.
A prayer from the Solemnity of the AnnunciationAlmighty Father of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, You have revealed the beauty of Your Power by exalting the lowly virgin of Nazareth and making her the mother of our Savior. May the prayers of this woman bring Jesus to the waiting world and fill the void of incompletion with the presence of her Child Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
The Second Joyful Mystery The VisitationSt. Luke's Gospel tells of a meeting which confirms the message of the angel to Mary:
"During those days, Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth." (Lk 1:39-40) The angel told Mary that Elizabeth, although she was very old--probably past menopause--was pregnant. The information was a statement of God's power and established a connection between the two women and eventually between the two men. By placing Mary into the context of John's story ["In the sixth month, the angel came... she remained...three months, then returned to her home" (Lk 1:26 and 56)], Luke draws parallels between the two births--that of John the Baptist and of Jesus: Both Zechariah and Mary were cheerfully going about their duties when an unexpected visitor startled them. Births were announced by an angel telling how the sons would fulfill many prophesies. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth were considered 'able" to have a child. The angel also gave the names of the children to be born. On the other hand: Elizabeth and Mary were at opposite ends of their childbearing years, pointing out, perhaps, that John heralded of the end of an age while Jesus was the beginning of the next. Gabriel spoke to the father of John the Baptist and the mother of Jesus. While Mary accepted the angel's word readily adn is lauded for her faith and obedience, Zechariah rebuffed it and was punished for his unbelief. Re-read these scriptures (Lk 1:5-22; 26-38). Think about the ways the two births can be compared. Elizabeth also reminds us of Sarah and Rebekkah who were old before God gave them children. Sarah's situation foretold the long wait Israel would have for the promised Savior. Rebekkah's twin sons foreshadowed the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus: "One will surpass the other; the older will serve the younger." (Gn 25:22) Yet, instead of using treachery, as Jacob did, Jesus awaited God's perfect timing. John, for his part, did not resist or resent being superseded by Jesus, but clearly stated that "He must increase, while I must decrease." (Jn 3:30)
A Leap for Joy"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb" (Lk 1:41) Elizabeth tells us that her babe leaped for joy (vs. 44)! Since Mary "went in haste," to Judea, the conception of Jesus may have been less than a week earlier. At six months in utero, John recognised Jesus through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, as he would at Jesus' baptism (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21; Jn 1:29-34). A wonderful, strong state- ment about the beginning of human life!
Holy Ones"...Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out with a loud voice, and said, 'Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of your womb.'" (Lk 1:41-42) Here, both Mary and 'the fruit of [her] womb' are called 'blessed.' They are set apart as being holy. Mary, for the sake of her Son, on account of her ready response to the task presented to her by the Lord, is to be esteemed by both men and angels. Elizabeth's greeting echoes the greeting of the angel to Mary. This in turn, recalls Gideon and Judith, as we saw earlier. In addition, it alludes to the canticle of Deborah praising Jael for destroying the chief of Israel's enemies by a blow to his head (Jdgs. 5:24-31). The canticle ends with the victorious statement: "May all Your enemies perish thus, O Lord! But Your friends be as the sun rising in its might!" (Jdgs. 5;31) Asaph also refers to the incident in Psalm 83.
The Mother of God"How does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43) Elizabeth is the first human to declare the divine title given to the risen Jesus (Jn 20:28; Acts 2:36; Phil 2:11) which is the essence of the Christian creed (Rm 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Col 2:6). This confirms His Lordship as foretold in Psalm 110 and Isaiah 45:24. Luke uses this title to emphasize Jesus' authority and power throughout his gospel (Lk 7:13; 10:1, 39, 41; 11:39).
Through this expression, Elizabeth asserts that Mary is the mother of God. St. Jerome observes "Elizabeth was a just and blessed woman; yet the excellency of the mother of God does so far surpass that of Elizabeth, and that of every other woman, as the great luminary outshines the smaller stars." In this way, we see that the Bible encourages us to honor Mary, for her faith and obedience, as the mother of God. A woman in the crowd extolled Mary's physical motherhood (Lk 11:27-28). Jesus corrected her saying it is not simply because Mary cared for His needs when He was a helpless infant, but rather because she heard the word of God and acted upon it.
Faith's blessing"Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." (Lk 1:45) Jesus revealed that those who believe and act on the Word of God are His mother, brothers and sisters (Mt 12:46-49; Mk 3:31-35; Lk 8:19-21). Since Mary had already given her assent to doing God's will, this places her right at the heart of His family. From the cross, He looked upon 'the disciple that Jesus loved' as His brother. John had indeed heard the Word of God and followed it, even to the cross. It was fitting that Jesus give His mother to us, His brothers and sisters with John as our representative, to be honored in accord with the commandments (Ex 20:12). God has promised much to those who obey Him:
"...if you continue to heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and are careful to observe all His commandments...the Lord, your God, will raise you high above all the nations on earth. When you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God, all these blessings will come upon you and overwhelm you:
May you be blessed in the city and blessed in the country! Blessed be the fruit of your womb, the produce of your soil and the offspring of your livestock, the issue of your herds, and the young of your flocks! Blessed be your grain bin and your kneading bowl! May you be blessed in your coming in and blessed in your going out! The Lord will beat down before you the enemies that rise up against you; though they come out against you from but one direction, they will flee before you in seven. The Lord will affirm His blessing upon you, on your barns and on all your undertakings, blessing you in the land which the Lord, your God, gives you. Provided that you keep the commandments that the Lord, your God, and walk in His ways, He will establish you as a people sacred to Himself, as He swore to you; so that, when all the nations of the world see you bearing the Name of the Lord, they will stand in awe of you." (Deuteronomy 28:1-10)
A Prayer from the Feast of the Visitation:Eternal Father, You inspired the Virgin Mary, mother of Your Son, to visit Elizabeth and assist her in her need. Keep us open to the working of Your Spirit, and with Mary may we praise You forever. We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You forever and ever. Amen.
The Third Joyful Mystery The Nativity"In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Lk 2:1-2). 'Whole world,' here, refers to the Roman Empire ruled by Caesar Augustus during a long period of peace. As he was revered as savior by his subjects, Luke parallels Caesar with the real Savior and Peace Bearer (Lk 2:11, 14; 19:38). This census, the first of 3, lasted from 8 B.C. to 6 A.D. Luke's details show that in spite of Caesar's power, he was used by God: as an agent to assure the public record of the ancestry of His Son; and to provide the pre-ordained birthplace for the Savior. Surely, God is in control of all things! St. Bede noted: Augustus meant to enumerate his subjects, but among them was numbered his God.
The City of David"All went to be enrolled . . . to his own town. Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David...Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David . . . with Mary his betrothed, who was with child" (Lk 2:3-5). Moses prophesied the Messiah to come from Israel, with a warning of the fate of those who reject Him (Dt 18:15-19). It was commonly known that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Mt 2:4-6; Jn 7:42):
"But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One Who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is ...from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne (Is 7:14)...the rest of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. He shall stand firm and shepherd His flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, His God...they shall remain, for now His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth" (Mi 5:1-3) The Birth in Bethlehem, fulfills the promise God made to David that the everlasting King would be born from his family (2 Sm 7:19-29; 1 Chr 17:16-27). The family is associated with Bethlehem from 'ancient times' (Ru 1:2).
Adopted SonsLuke (1:27, 34-35) and Matthew (1:18, 20, 25) both emphasize Joseph was not responsible for Jesus' conception. Since he is not Jesus' natural father the line of ancestry (Gn 5; 1 Chr 1-5; Mt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-28) seems severed. As the law commands that people from the same clan marry to preserve their inheritance (Nm 36;6-9), Joseph and Mary are both from the family of David. They were obliged to go to Bethlehem (1 Sm 16:1-13) for the census.
Abram adopted Lot, taking him into his family and eventually saving him from death (Gn 12:4; 14:11-16; 19:29). Joseph adopted Mary's Son, by taking her and the Child into his home, re-establish- ing the line of ancestry and renewing the covenant made with Abraham (Gn 13:15; 17:7; 22:16-17; Lk 1:55; 72-73). This foreshadowed our adoption as God's children (Jn 1:12-13; Gal 3:14-4:7; Eph 1:4-14) through Baptism and the gift of the Spirit--faith. We are brought into Mary's home, too: she becomes our mother as the spouse of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35).
Already the Sign of Contradiction"While they were there, the time came for her to have her Child, and she gave birth to her firstborn Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:6-7). The description of Jesus as firstborn is a legal description indicating certain dignity, rights, and privileges (Gn 27; Ex 13:2; Nm 3:12-13; 18:15- 16; Dt 21:15-17). It does not necessarily mean that Mary had other children. At Jesus' birth, the paradox of the Incarnation is already evident. Allusion is made to David's son, Solomon. A great king who was born and wrapped in swaddling clothes like any infant (Wis 7:4-6). The manger recalls prophecy of Israel's rejection of the Messiah: "...Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me! An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master's manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood. Ah! sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children! They have forsaken the Lord, spurned the Holy One of Israel, apostatized" (Is 1:2-4). How often do we reject the poor and helpless because they do not come as we expect? Is there space in our lives for the tiny Babe Who will teach the world the greatest Lesson of Love?
Heavenly Messenger"There were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping night watch over their flock" (Lk 2:8). The announcement to shepherds keeps Luke's theme that the lowly are singled out to receive God's favors and blessings (Lk 1:48, 52). "The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear" (Lk 2:9). Throughout Scripture, the angel of the Lord bears the Lord's messages. In early writings, it is a visi- ble manifestation of God Himself (Gn 16:7; Ac 7:38). Later, angels are shown as created beings dis- tinct from God, members of the heavenly court (Jb 1:6), sent to bring messages (Mt 1:20; Lk 1:11, 26), to execute judgement (Ex 12:23; 2 Kg 19:35), or as guardians of nations or individuals (Dn 10:13; Tb 3:17; Ac 5:19). This appearance echoes the presence of the Lord on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:16- 18). Here is the brilliant light, the unapproachable majesty of God. It shone from the mountain, from the face of Moses (Ex 34:29) and Solomon's Temple (1 Kg 8:10-11).
What Are You Looking For?"The angel said...'Do not be afraid...I proclaim good news of great joy...for all people. For today in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you Who is Messiah and Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find an Infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger'" (Lk 2:8-12). The angel brings the basic message of the infancy narrative: this Child is Savior, Messiah, and Lord. (Mt 1:21; 16:16; Jn 4:42; Acts 2:36; 5:31; Phil 2:11). 'Christos' is Greek, equivalent to the Hebrew 'Mesiach'--anointed one. Certain groups in first-century Judaism expected a royal leader, an heir of David, to restore the kingdom of Israel (Ac 1:6). Luke is the only synoptic gospel writer to use the title Savior (Lk 1:69; 2:11; 19:9; Ac 4:12; 5:31; 13:23). He plays down the political overtones of the title. Instead the Messiah is One who brings salvation to all humanity, Jew and Gentile (Lk 2:29-32). He rescues humanity from sin and delivers us from our alienation from God. Lord, the most frequently used title for Jesus in Luke and Acts, is reserved for Yahweh in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, a new era, it is used for the Father and the Son. When used of Jesus it points to his transcendence and dominion over humanity.
Peace on Earth"Suddenly, there was a multitude of the Heavenly Host with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests!'" (Lk 2:13-14) The peace of which Luke's gospel speaks (Lk 2:14; 7:50; 8:48; 10:5-6; 19:38, 42; 24:36) is more than external--the absence of war as in the pax Augusta; it includes security and well-being, charac- teristic of peace as frequently described in the Old Testament. It is clearly a major attribute of God's Kingdom. Peace and reconciliation is offered to men through the mercy and good will of God. It is available on earth, since human nature, before an enemy to God, is now reconciled and united to Him by His Incarnation. It results from encountering Christ, as God favors us with His grace--a gift of faith. It is up to each to exercise 'good will' in accepting this gift.
"When the angels went away from them to Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go then to Bethlehem to see this thing which has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant, lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this Child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them." (Lk 2:15-20).
Visitors from Afar
Matthew, like Luke, places Jesus' birth in the context of history. Herod was king of Judea, Id- umaea, and Samaria from 37 to 4 B.C. "When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.'" (Mt 2:1-2) The reference to 'wise men from the east' seems deliberately vague to forecast Christ's mission: He is rejected by the Jews while the wise men of the Gentiles are attracted by His light. Magi were originally of the Persian priestly caste. The same Greek word was used to denote magicians such as Simon (Ac 8:9) and Elymas (Ac 13:8). Later, the word came to be used for those who seemed to have more than human knowledge. Some translations speak of them as if they were kings, princes, or lords of some small territories. Matthew's magi are astrologers. They calculated the location to which the star pointed. He indicates that the magi observed a miraculously bright star rather than some natural phenomenon. It appears to them 'at its rising,' (v. 2). Then it appears again 'over the place where the Child lay' (v. 10) This star is assumed to have appeared around the time of Christ's birth. But it is not clear whether it continued to guide them along their journey to Jerusalem or just shone long enough for them to make their calculations and plan their trip. In the ancient Middle East, a star signified a god--the birth of a divine king. The wise men may have had access to the prophetic works of Israel or they may have preserved their own prophecies. Certain Arabic tribes may have had in their history Balaam's prophesy when Balak ordered him to curse Isra- el: "I see him, though not now; I behold him though not near: a star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel..." (Nm 24:17) This passage points to the dynasty of David from which the Messiah was to come. "When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him." (Mt 2:3) The number of these wise men is uncertain: we usually consider that they were 3 because they bore 3 the gifts that are named. However, they may have been a large number of travellers--enough to cause a stir in Jerusalem when they entered. In addition, Herod's anxiety filtered to the people. Herod gained his power through violence. So when these strangers entered the city inquiring after a new king, the people feared Herod's reaction. They knew of his jealous nature. He could enforce on them a much more gruelling slavery. They had been so worn down by wars that a peace, even at the cost of Roman bondage was at least some peace to be preserved, almost at all costs. It seems from the subsequent events that their fears were somewhat justified.
A Question for the Experts'"Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "in Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 'And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you is to come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'" (Mt 2:4-6) Again we see that it was well known that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. The chief priests and scribes were known as 'doctors of the Law' (Lk 5:17; Ac 5:34) or 'lawyers' (ex. Lk 7:30). Their occupation was to interpret the scriptures, especially the Law of Moses, in order to put forth guidelines for conduct for the Jewish people. Most were Pharisees. These lawyers were held in high esteem among the people. Along with the high priests and the elders they constituted the Sanhedrin. Herod's consultation with the chief priests and scribes has some similarity to a Jewish legend about the child Moses: Sacred scribes warned Pharaoh about the imminent birth of one who would deliver Israel from Egypt. Consequently, the king made plans to destroy him. "Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained the time of the star's appearance, He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go, and search diligently for the Child. When you have found Him, bring me word that I, too, may go and do Him homage.'
Timing?After their audience with the king, they set out. "And behold the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them until it came and stopped over the place where the Child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother. They pros- trated themselves and did Him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." (Mt 2:7-11)
Reference to the time elapsed between Jesus' birth and the visit by the magi is absent here. Speculation gives it a range from 13 days to the two years Herod determined as the range of age for the boys to be killed (v. 16). In his irrational rage, Herod may well have extended beyond the time the magi had indicated for the star's appearance to be assured no chance of missing his 'mark.' It is possible that, after the magi's visit, the disturbance in the Temple at the time of the purification ceremony may have re-kindled Herod's fury.
However long it may have been, it is unlikely that Mary and her Child would remain in an open, drafty stable for any length of time. She was constrained to stay at Bethlehem for 40 days until the sacrifice was offered for her purification after the birth (Lv 12; Lk 2:22-24). She could have moved into a house with the diminishing of the census crowd.
Royal GiftsThe magi offered much more than the cursory salutation to the Child. In this way, they gave an example for us. When they prostrated themselves, they acknowledged His divinity. Their gifts indicate recognition of His royalty (gold), divinity (incense), and His mortality--looking ahead to His Passion (myrrh). The gifts also recall Isaiah's description of the glory of the New Zion (Is 60:4-6). Isaiah and David give us an indication that these visitors may have been royal:
"May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts. May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him...Long may he live, receiving gold from Arabia, prayed for without cease, blessed day by day...May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun, may his name endure. May the tribes of the earth give blessings with his name; may all the nations re- gard him as favored." (Ps 72:10, 11, 15, 17) We adore Christ in the Eucharist. He chooses to give Himself to us under the appearance of a per- fect man, a speechless child as here, or under the appearance of bread and wine. It is evident that he is there; in whatever manner or place he appears, He is true God. For that alone he is to be adored. Christ was not in Bethlehem, nor did he descend from heaven to be adored: He tells us in Matthew 20, verse 28, that the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Yet he was adored on earth, even while he was in his mortal state, by the magi, by his disciples, by the blind man that was cured of his blindness, etc. St. Chryostom urges us to imitate the magi. We see him not in the crib, but on the altar. It is not a woman holding him, but the priest who is present. At the same tim, the Holy Spirit pours out abundantly upon the sacrifice.
A prayer from Christmas Mass at Midnight:Lord our God, with the birth of Your Son, Your glory breaks on the world. Through the night hours of the darkened earth, we Your people watch for the coming of Your promised Son. As we wait, grant us a foretaste of the joy that You will grant us when the fullness of His glory has filled the earth, who lives and reigns with You, forever and ever. Amen
The Fourth Joyful Mystery The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple"When 8 days were completed for His circumcision He was named Jesus, the name given Him by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
PurificationWhen the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord," (Lk 2:21-22) Mary was raised above the law by grace (Mt 1:18-25), but humility subjected her to it (Lk 1:38). Her humility was confirmed as she presented the offering prescribed for the poor. Discharges of bodily fluids, especially blood (Lv 15:19-27), were unclean according to the Law (Lv 15:2-18; Ez 4:12-15). Since uncleanness was more contagious than sacredness (Hg 2:11-13), anyone who came into contact with one who was unclean was also considered unclean (Lv 5:2-3). Although Tradition tells of a miraculous Birth so that Mary was not exposed to the blood which would make her unclean, they were obliged to observe this Purification Law--she by the fact of giving birth, and the Child since He was considered 'unclean' through close contact with His mother:
"...When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for 7 days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy's foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend 33 days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled...When the days of her purification ...are fulfilled, she shall bring to the priest...a yearling lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering...If, however, she cannot afford a lamb, she may take two turtledoves... the one for a holocaust and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for her, and thus she will again be clean." (Lv 12)
The Importance of the LawWe see Jesus' parents as devout Jews who were careful to observe the commands of the Law given by God through Moses. Luke described them in a similar way as he did John's parents (Lk 1:6), Simeon (Lk 2:25), and Anna (Lk 2:36-37).
"just as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,' and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord." (Lk 2:23-24)
Jesus was consecrated to the Lord as the law required (Ex 13:2; 12-15). The consecration of the first-born commemorated the final plague in Egypt: the first-born of the Egyptians were slain while those of the Israelites were spared due to their observance of the decree to sprinkle the blood of a lamb on their doorposts (Ex 11-12). Luke emphasized this ceremony as a direct statement of the future of the Child. The Church fathers suggest several reasons for our Lord to choose to submit to these Laws:
It made clear to the world the reality of His human nature (1 Tm 2:5-6), and the difference between His divinity and humanity (Phil 2:6-11). Circumcision demonstrated He was the seed of Abraham (Gn 17:11-13). The purification identified Him as one of God's chosen people (Ex 19:5). By submitting to to these mandates, our Lord showed His approval of the laws which He had instituted (Mt 5:18). He taught humility and obedience by His obedience to laws to which He was not bound (Jn 1:17). We see His approval and obedience modelled explicitly at His baptism by John (Mt 3:13-17). Thus, Christ left an example for rulers to obey their own laws. Leaders can expect laws to be observed by others only when they themselves show respect for laws.
By receiving the burden of the law, Christ freed those that were under the law (Gal 3). Finally, the Jews could have no excuse for rejecting Christ on account that He had not followed these laws.
Those Who Were Waiting"There was a man in Jerusalem . . . Simeon . . . righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord." (Lk 2:25-26). Simeon and Anna represented the hopes and expectations of faithful, devout Jews. Many at the time were looking for the restoration of God's rule in Israel (Is 40:1; 42:1) and redemption of mankind from sin and the devil. The birth of Jesus brought these hopes to fulfillment. He is the Christ (One anointed or set aside) for a saving mission as the King of Israel (I Sm 15:17-18; 23:1-7). God's chosen Prince was consecrated through the law and the witness of these 2 holy people as the Messiah Who would establish the Kingdom of God. "He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus...he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: 'Now, Master, You may let Your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for Your people Israel. (Lk 2:27-32) A spirit of grace and prophecy led Simeon to the temple at the very time Jesus was brought to observe the law for newborns. He had been promised that he would see the Messiah. It was with great joy, then, that Simeon greeted the Holy Family. Simeon's words would be echoed by John the Bapist as he preached to the crowds (Lk 3:6). He quotes Isaiah's prophecies that Salvation is for gen- tiles as well as Jews, but that the Jews will get the glory (Is 40:5; 42:6; 49:6; 52:10) "The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;" (Lk 2:33) Imagine the surprise of the Holy Family as a man hailed them, cradled the Precious One in his arms and spoke of them in this manner!
A Mixed Blessing"and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be con- tradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'" (Lk 2:34-35) Christ came for the redemption and salvation of all, God did not send His Son for the fall of anyone. Simeon tells of what happens to those who, in their willful blindness and obstinacy, refuse to receive and obey Him. They choose their own falling. This passage points, especially to the Jews who would discharge the arrows and darts of their malice at Jesus on account of His doctrine. Mary suffered anguish as she witnessed the Passion of her Son. In part, this pain would come from her knowlege of His true innocence and Nature. Additionally, as the true Daughter of Zion, Mary would also bear the sorrowful destiny of her race.
Gifted Women"There was also a prophetess, Anna . . . advanced in years, having lived 7 years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was 84. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer . . . coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem." (Lk 2:36-38) Anna has credentials as a woman dedicated to God and an interpreter of His intentions (1 Tm 5:4-5). She reminds us of holy women: Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah, (Jg 4:4-5), Huldah, (2 Kg 22:15), and Judith (Jd 8:4-6) who were entrusted with expressing God's word to the people.
On Jesus' Growth"When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." (Lk 2:39-40) This statement about growth of a child is echoed 3 times in the infancy narrative: first for John the Baptist (Lk 1:80) and finally after the Holy Family returns from Jerusalem (Lk 2:52). It seems to be a summation of the hidden years of childhood as it is for John and for Samuel (1 Sm 2:26). While Jesus is God thus cannot truly grow in wisdom, as He advanced in age as a man, He gave increasing evidence of His divine widsom and knowlege.
A Prayer from the Feast of the Presentation of the LordAll powerful Father, Christ Your Son became Man for us and was presented in the temple. May He free our hearts from sin and bring us into Your presence. We ask this through Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holty Spirit, one e God, forever and ever. Amen.
The Fifth Joyful Mystery Finding Jesus in the TempleThe infancy narrative--a unique section in the Gospels--ends as it began, in the Jerusalem Temple. The Holy Family, faithful Jews, teach their Son the traditions and laws (Ex 12:26-27; Dt 4:9-10; 6:7, 20-25; 11:19; Ps 78:5-7; Pr 1:8; 6:20) and observe the holy days of Israel (Ex 2:2-28; Dt 16:1-7). We have also a first indication of Jesus' awareness of His identity as the Son of God.
Another Trip to Jerusalem"Each year His parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when He was 12 years old, they went up according to festival custom" (Lk 2:41-42). Although Joseph and Mary were reluctant to live in Jerusalem for the Child's safety (Mt 2:22-23), these trips to the Temple provided them a measure of anonymity due to the crowds. This was not Jesus' first visit to Jerusalem since His presentation in the Temple. It was taken for granted that children and their parents firmly bonded (I Kg 3:16-28; Pr 4:3; I Th 2:7-8). Sheltered and protected by the family (Ps 131:2; Is 66:12-14), it was unthinkable for a mother to leave a child (Ps 27:10; Is 49:15) especially for the 3-week trip required here.
Three Days Lost"After they completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it. Thinking that He was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for Him among their relatives and acquaintances," (Lk 2:43-44). Entire towns made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem 3 times each year, as commanded (Ex 12:25; Dt 16:5-6, 16). Even today, Jews long to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem: they proclaim to each other at the end of the seder: "Next year in Jerusalem!" As they travelled they sang the pilgrim psalms (42-72) which express a desire for the Holy City. Men gathered at one part of the caravan, women at another. Among family and friends, youngsters wandered within the crowd, free to be with whichever group they wished. It is easy to understand how each parent might think that their Son was some- where among the relatives the first day of the journey. As they prepared for the night, however, it became obvious that no one had seen Him. Imagine the panic which seized Mary and Joseph as they re- traced their footsteps.
"not finding Him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for Him. After 3 days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers" (Lk 2:45-48). The 3 days Jesus spent in the tomb as He 'went about His Father's business' to redeem mankind are foreshadowed here. The joy of His spiritual family, at the latter time, can be compared with that of these worried parents as they found their lost Son.
In My Father's HouseAt the age of 12, a boy is considered a man in Jewish custom. He gains the privilege to speak in the temple. Jesus apparently seized this opportunity to begin to let the elders know that the Messiah had come. In youthful innocence, the Boy desired to share with the teachers and religious rulers a perspective to free the people from the extra trappings heaped on them by generations of priests and lawyers in order to safeguard the people of God. He asked child-like questions which probably made them re-think some of their assumptions. He interpreted scriptures as a young man might view them, in a way which was fresh and new. Yet His statements made perfect sense. It was clear to the teachers that this Boy had reflected deeply on the Scriptures, even though He was not educated at Jerusalem (Mt 13:54-56; Jn 7:15). Some years later, as He began His ministry, the people grew to admire Him (Mt 7:28; Mk 1:22; Lk 4:15; 22). The apostles experienced a similar reaction as they began to preach (Ac 2:6-11; 4:13). As years went by, however, among Jewish leaders fear took precedence over awe. We see a parallel to another Passover, 21 years later, when the elders (perhaps some of these same elders) were somewhat differently impressed with Jesus' understanding and knowledge (Mt 12:14; Jn 5:18; 11:47-53).
What Kind of Answer is This?"When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, 'Son, why have You done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for You with great anxiety.' "He said to them, 'Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?' But they did not understand what He said to them" (Lk 2:49-50).
At first glance, Jesus' answer may look like a teenager's defiant declaration of independence. Upon reflection, something else entirely appears to be stated. Jesus says that we do not have to wander far and wide, as some of us have done, to find Him. He is present in the temple-- in our present day, in the Catholic church. We find Jesus' heart for the place of assembly for His people. He is found frequently in the synagogue and becomes angry as He observes the misuse of temple grounds (Mt 21:12-13; Mk 11:15-17; Lk 19:45:46; Jn 2:14-18). At this point, Jesus also declares that He is not the son of Joseph, but that His Father is divine. The confusion on this point is emphasized throughout the Gospels (Mt 12:46-50; 13:54-57; Mk 3:31-35;6:2-6; Lk 3:23; 4:23; 8:19-21; Jn 6:42). Would He be required to condemn even His relatives, be- cause of their lack of faith, on Judgement day, as the Levites were required to do to those who had worshipped the golden calf (Ex 32:25-29; Dt 33:9; Mt 10:37; Lk 14:26)? His parents misunderstood His words. Many people throughout His ministry, even the apostles, had a similar obstacle (Mt 15:16; 16:9, 23; 20:22; Mk 4:13; 6:52; 7:18; 8:17-18, 21, 33; 9:10, 32; 10:38; Lk 9:45). Do we miss the straightforward message of scripture? Do we make Christianity more complicated than it needs to be? Jesus teaches that the mysteries of the faith are within the grasp of a child (Mt 18:1-6; 19:13-15 Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:15-17).
Obedience"He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. And His mother kept all these things in her heart" (Lk 2:51). The Son of God teaches humility by His example in obedience to His parents! The evangelist relates nothing of our Savior from the ages of 12 till 30, except that He was subject to St. Joseph and the blessed Virgin. He shows by this, that nothing is so appropriate for Christians, as ready obedience to the directions of their superiors. In fact, obedience is more important than sacrifice (I Sm 15:22; Ps 40:7; Ec 4:17). Children of all ages are taught what subjection and obedience is required from them toward their parents.
We Share Mary's ReflectionsMary surely thought quite often about these events in Her Son's life, puzzled about how they all fit together. Possibly, she and Joseph searched the Torah for the prophecies about the Messiah. It is ob- vious at this point that they still didn't fully understand their meaning for the Son of God. Time and again, the angel's and Elizabeth's words must have rung in Mary's ears: "Hail, Full of Grace . . . you have found favor with the Lord . . . you will . . . bear a Son . . . called the Son of the Most High." "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . . how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" As we say the Rosary, the words of the angel and Elizabeth are as background music. We ask, as Mary undoubtedly did, for a deeper understanding of the mysteries in her Son's life. "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Lk 2:52). While we would very much like to know more about Jesus' early life, it is significant that we are given little information about the childhood of other Biblical characters aside from Moses and Samuel.
Prayer from the Feast of the Holy FamilyFather, help us to live as the Holy Family, united in respect and love. Bring us to they joy and peace of Your eternal home. Grant this through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen. Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN ------------------------------------------------------------------- Provided courtesy of: Eternal Word Television Network -------------------------------------------------------------------