Article 49 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Have you ever found it curious that preparation for the arrival of Christ into the world took many centuries while his actual time on earth in the flesh was only about 33 years. Out of those 33 years we know a little about the circumstances of his birth and more about the circumstances of his death. The years in between, however, with the exception of about 3 years are largely unknown to us. In fact, the Catechism mentions that “the finding of Jesus in the temple is the only event that breaks the silence of the Gospels about the hidden years of Jesus” (ccc 534).
The entire Old Testament is a preparation for the Messiah. All the “rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the ‘First Covenant’” (ccc 522) as well as the words announcing the Messiah “through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel” (ccc 522) all “converge on Christ” (ccc 522). We know from the New Testament of course that Saint John the Baptist “is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way” (ccc 523). Saint Matthew tells us: “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea … It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said, ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Matthew 3:1-3). Before that, “the coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries” (ccc 522).
St. Luke’s Gospel takes us back in time to shortly before the birth of Christ. John the Baptist, forerunner of Christ, has begun calling the people to repentance as a proper preparation for reception of the Redeemer in their midst. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God!” (Luke 3:6) For those who heard John and believed, what joy-filled hope must have surged in their hearts to think that the long-awaited One was about to appear. They could not even have guessed at the reality of the wonder they were soon to encounter. How could they expect that God Himself would come seeking His lost sheep? Yet so it was. The hope for salvation held out to the exiles of old; the hope for salvation held out to the Christians of Saint Paul’s time; and the hope for salvation trumpeted by John the Baptist in preparation for Christ’s first coming to earth — all of these are also grounds for us to lift up our heads and open our hearts to the special graces of the holy season of Advent. “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah” for all of us (ccc 524). As well, “by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, we renew our ardent desire for his second coming” (ccc 524).
This is so our celebration of Christmas may be a warmer welcoming of Christ into our lives and, through us, into the lives of all we meet.
No doubt the Church never tires of singing the glory of this night:
The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal
And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible.
The angels and shepherds praise him
And the magi advance with the star,
For you are born for us,
Little Child, God eternal! (ccc 525).
The Catechism continues:
“O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity” (ccc 526).
The Catechism then offers an outline of the mysteries of Jesus’ infancy and the mysteries of Jesus’ hidden life.
The mysteries of Jesus’ infancy include:
- Jesus’ circumcision, on the eighth day after his birth, is the sign of his incorporation into Abraham’s descendants, into the people of the covenant … This sign prefigures that “circumcision of Christ” which is Baptism (ccc 527).
- The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world (ccc 528).
- The presentation of Jesus in the temple shows him to be the firstborn Son who belongs to the Lord (ccc 529).
- The flight into Egypt and the massacre of the innocents make manifest the opposition of darkness to the light (and shows that) … Christ’s whole life was lived under the sign of persecution (ccc 530).
The mysteries of Jesus’ hidden life include:
- The greater part of his life (wherein) Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor (ccc 531).
- The everyday obedience of Jesus to Joseph and Mary both announced and anticipated the obedience of Holy Thursday -and beyond – (ccc 532).
- The hidden life at Nazareth … is the school of the Gospel (where we learn) a lesson of silence … a lesson on family life … a lesson of work (ccc 533).
- The finding of Jesus in the temple is the only event that breaks the silence of the Gospels about the hidden years of Jesus (ccc 534).
Our sincere reflection on these mysteries of the life of Jesus’ offer us hope for a greater faithfulness to the Lord than we have shown until now, a greater love for God and neighbor, and a greater openness to the working of Christ in our lives.