Sunday, January 6, 2019

(215) Living With the Christ Child Through Images of the Holy Land


Jews praying at the surviving Western Wall, surrounding the original destroyed temple
built by Herod the Great in the year 19 BC to replace the one destroyed by King
Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army in 586 BC.  It is often referred to as the Wailing
Wall in lamentation for the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD after a 
rebellion.  Notice the size of the large limestone blocks.  It must have been a real feat, using
primitive equipment to cut them and raise them to the 62 feet height of the wall 

The Presentation.  When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  When 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, 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.  Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.  We should likewise consecrate our children and our families to the God.  
This man was 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.  He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, 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."
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; 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 contradicted.  And your own soul a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."  Some marianologists refer to this prophesy as a second annunciation.
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.  And 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 (Luke 2:21-38).

       The Seven Sorrows of Mary are sometimes pictured as seven swords piercing her heart in reflection of Simeon’s prophecy.  They are:  1) The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35); 
2) The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15);  
3) Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41-50); 
4) Mary meets Jesus on his way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17); 
5) Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25-30); 
6) The body of Jesus is taken down from the Cross (Psalm 130; Luke 23:50-54;  John 19:31-37); 
7) The burial of Jesus (Isaiah 53:8; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47). 
It is speculated that Mary felt a great pain in her heart at the moment that her son’s heart was pierced by the lance of the centurion while His lifeless body was still nailed to the cross.

Looking east from Jerusalem.  The Magi probably came from an ancient civilization in what today is Jordan.  Imagine the caravan of camels and the entourage of the Magi having to descend from the far hill and then climb the next hill up into Jerusalem.
The Visit of the Magi.  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."  When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 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 shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"   

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them 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."  Here Christ also identifies Himself with the gentiles, the affluent, and the educated. 
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 prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.  The star was probably a confluence of three planets.

The star was probably a confluence of three planets.  Other  theories include a comet and a supernova. 
       The gifts of the Magi are very symbolic.  Gold is a gift for a king.  Frankincense is for a priest who offers sacrifice and incense that symbolically rises up to God with our prayers.  Christ is a priest who offers Himself to God on the cross as reparation for our sins and the Christ child is divine.  Myrrh is a perfume that will be used to anoint Christ’s body in the tomb.  It was also mixed with the vinegar that was given to Christ on the cross to alleviate His pain.  Both frankincense and myrrh crystals are burnt to form incense that is often used in church during benediction and at solemn Masses. 

The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents and the Flight into Egypt.  When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."  Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.  He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I called my son."  When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the Magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:  "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more."  Writing to the Jews, Matthew often refers to what was foretold in their scriptures.  Are we not slaughtering so many innocents today with about a million abortions per year in the United States alone?

          When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead."  He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.  He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazorean." (Matthew 2:1-23)

The Western Wall or Wailing Wall surrounding the destroyed temple.
A model of the original temple.

The Christ Child Lost in the Temple.  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.  Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.  After they had 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, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 
Imagine the anxiety of Mary and Joseph and the thoughts that must have entered their minds.  What happened to the boy?  Is He OK?  Will they ever see Him again?  Have we failed in our mission?  Surely, they prayed and trusted that God would work it out for the best in the long run and indeed He did.  May we do likewise during the hard times in our lives.
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.  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."  And 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.   

The relief and joy they felt made this the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.  Apparently the twelve year old Christ child, although the second person of the Holy Trinity, thought in his human nature with the maturity of a boy that age.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.  And Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favor before God and man (Luke 2:39-52).

There is no other biblical record of the doings of the Holy Family.  The story about the death of St. Joseph in the arms of Mary and Jesus is tradition passed down.  The German mystic, Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), wrote a book in the 19th Century about her visions of the hidden life of Christ and details of His public life.


(50) Meditations For the Rosary I: The 4th and 5th Joyful Mysteries, the Presentation and the Finding of the Christ Child in the Temple.

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