Fruit Upon the Bough
The Mission

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In his great mercy God gave to us his own Son to restore us to his friendship.  Christ came into the world as an infant, bore witness to the will of the Father, taught us the complete truth about God, and was himself the perfect model of all we should be.

We call this Christ's mission.  Even in Jesus' infancy, God began to reveal this mission to the world.  We have seen how the shepherds were invited to come and see the newborn Savior.  Not long afterwards, other things happened that showed that God was letting people know about Jesus' mission. 

When Jesus was eight days old, St. Luke tells us he was circumcised in accordance with Jewish law; when he was forty days old, he was presented to the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem.  His parents offered in sacrifice two young pigeons, as the law directed.

Then a most unusual thing happened.  A very devout old man named Simeon was led by the Holy Spirit to the Child in the Temple and took him into his arms.  Through the Holy Spirit he recognized the Messiah.  With great joy Simeon blessed God, saying that now he could die in peace because he had seen the Savior of both the Jews and Gentiles.  Mary and Joseph marveled at what was being said.

Then the shadow of the Cross fell across the group - the Cross which was still far in the future.  Simeon turned to Mary and said: "This Child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed - and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword - so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare" (Lk 2:34-35).

Simeon saw a full picture: power, glory, and suffering.  The Child was a sign that would be opposed - and Mary, his Mother and Mother of the Church, would have a unique share in his sufferings.  God was filling in the picture of his plan of Redemption.

Shortly afterwards, three kings or wise men from the East came to see the Child and give him gifts.  God had told them to follow a bright star to find the newborn King of the Jews.  Their visit was added testimony to the greatness of the newborn Savior; it was also gave testimony to the all-out fury which would oppose him.

King Herod, a vicious man insanely jealous of his power, heard from the wise men that a new King had been born, and all his darkest passions were aroused.  Intending to kill the Child, he instructed the wise men to report back to him after they had found the Child.  But the wise men were warned against Herod in a dream, and they went home by another route after their visit.

When Herod learned of this, his rage and suspicion knew no bounds.  He sent his soldiers to Bethlehem and the surrounding area with orders to kill all the boys there who were two years old and younger, being certain that the newborn King would perish in the holocaust.

However, the Holy Family escaped the clutches of this bloodthirsty tyrant.  Joseph had been warned in a dream of the coming danger.  An angel commanded him to take mother and child and seek safety in Egypt and to stay there until he was told it was safe to come home.  Joseph obeyed immediately - that very night - and so they escaped.  The children who died were Christ's first martyrs.  We call them the Holy Innocents.

Not everybody is called to give his life for Christ - though many have.  But it is sometimes as difficult to live for Christ as it is to die for him.  It may even be harder.  Take the case of a person with a serious illness who nevertheless has to bear heavy responsibilities.  Think of Pope John Paul II, who had to resume the burdensome task of the papacy after being so badly wounded.  That must be harder than dying.

Another Stage

When Jesus was twelve years old, Luke tells us, he went to Jerusalem with his parents for the feast of the Passover.  Unknown to them, he stayed behind when they set out on their return.  At the end of the day they discovered he wasn't with them and returned immediately to Jerusalem to look for him.  The third day they found him in the Temple, deeply involved in conversation with the teachers of the law, listening to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his wisdom.

Mary asked him why he had done this.  He answered, "Didn't you know that I must be about my Father's business?"  His parents did not understand.  Afterwards he returned with them to Nazareth and lived in obedience, and Mary thought over all these things while he "progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and man" (Lk 2:52).

The unfolding of Christ's mission was often mysterious, even to his parents.  In the Temple he had said, in effect, that he had reached adulthood, like turning eighteen or twenty-one in our society.  According to Jewish law he was a man; and now that Jesus was an adult, the Father wanted his Son's witness in the Temple.  He wanted his Son's wisdom to be known.  But only this hint was given when Jesus was young; we hear no more until he is thirty years old and begins his public life. "Let your light shine before men", he was to say; and when he was twelve years old, he had begun to do so.

Until he entered upon public life, Jesus lived quietly in poverty and humility, obedient in all things to the authority of his parents.

 Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534

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