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Review: Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, New York, Image, 2012

Jesus of Nazareth - The Infancy Narrative - by Pope Benedict XVI
Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narrative – by Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI has given the world a special gift this year, his reflections on the Infancy Narratives found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In this short volume he shows how the birth of Jesus fulfills the promises of the Old Testament. He also reflects on the importance of Jesus for the salvation of the world.

Benedict XVI comments on some of the most beloved scenes in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. We learn in a deeper way the meaning of the Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist, and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus. This is followed by reflections on the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the coming of the Wise Men and the Flight into Egypt, ending with the Twelve-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple.

What are most moving are Benedict XVI’s reflections on Mary and Joseph, two ordinary people in their day, living in a small village. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary in the hiddenness of her daily life to ask her the most important question in the history of the world, would she be the mother of the Jesus. Benedict XVI contrasts the circumstances of the annunciation of John the Baptist in the Temple, and the annunciation of Jesus in Nazareth.

The sign of the new Covenant is humility, hiddenness— the sign of the mustard-seed. The Son of God comes in lowliness. Both these elements belong together: the profound continuity in the history of God’s action and the radical newness of the hidden mustard-seed.

(Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives: 3 p. 21.)

Through her obedience, saying “Yes” to the Father, Mary prepared the way for the salvation of all. It was not an easy journey for her as the Angel Gabriel leaves her after she gives her answer (Luke 1:38).

The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger— in which her whole life is changed— comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with the task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing round her. She must continue along the path that leads through many dark moments— from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mk 3: 21; Jn 10: 20), right up to the night of the Cross. (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives: 3, p. 37.)

Benedict XVI also gives us an especially sensitive and insightful reflection on Joseph, the just man. He places Joseph in the context of Psalm 1, the description of the man who is faithful and “delights in the law of the Lord.” (Psalm 1:23) When he discovers that Mary is pregnant, Joseph has a decision to make.

After the discovery that Joseph made, his task was to interpret and apply the law correctly. He does so with love: he does not want to give Mary up to public shame. He wishes her well, even in the hour of his great disappointment. He does not embody the form of externalized legal-ism that Jesus denounces in Mt 23 and that Paul opposes so strenuously. He lives the law as Gospel. He seeks the path that brings law and love into a unity. And so he is inwardly prepared for the new, unexpected and humanly speaking incredible news that comes to him from God. (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives: 3, pp. 40 – 41.)

In obedience to God, Joseph becomes the protector and shield for Mary and Jesus. In his living faith, he inward watchfulness for the will of God, he was able to discern the tasks God calls him  to in protecting the Holy Family.

Benedict XVI offers many more insights into the Infancy Narratives and presents them to us in an accessible way so that they are easy to understand.  They will help make the preparation for the celebration of Christmas an especially rewarding experience.

Jesus of Nazareth Three Book Series

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