I bet the Holy Family kept hens! Like any young lad Jesus would have been fascinated by them, collected their eggs, watched the mother hen with her chicks. He may even have chased them. In fact Jesus seems to have had the curiosity and sense of wonder of any child. For Him, as for them, everything was new. Like any other child He may well have driven His parents to distraction with His constantly asking, "Why? What is this? How does this work?" The child, Jesus, was discovering the world in which, He, the Son of God, was growing up, the world which through Him, the Word, came into being. He was learning what it meant for Him to be human, what it meant for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us. He, the creator of heaven and earth, was seeing the world afresh, through the eyes of a child. He was filled with a sense of wonder.
Although I’ve been aware of such ideas for many, many years they have become especially vivid during my present Advent preparation for celebrating the birthday of our saviour. A beautiful book, entitled "Jesus –A Portrait," by Gerald O’Collins S.J. has become a spring-board for these present musings. He is helping me appreciate what it meant for the Son of God to join the human race –to become one of us.
I’m fascinated by the way Jesus was so interest in the world in which He was growing up -in His world, our world. As a child He may well have planted some seeds and marvelled as shoots sprang from the ground while He was tucked up in bed. I can remember my own excitement when I woke up and first saw the tiny shoots of the lettuces I had planted. Jesus observed and noted what was going on around Him –the farmers sowing seed, people losing and finding a sheep, a coin, even a son. He would have seen joyful weddings followed by a banquet; He would have heard of high-way robberies, of people anxiously waiting to be employed, domestic quarrels and industrial disputes, dishonest labourers, and employers exploiting their workers. He probably watched His mother Mary bake bread and marvelled at the way a little yeast could expand a large lump of dough.
All these and so many more experiences formed the rhythm of Jesus’ life from His infancy to His death. Though common-place, because they are shared by people of every generation and culture, they are of immense significance to each individual child. They go to make up what it means for us to become world-alert human beings. The very same applied to Jesus Himself. These experiences are so normal, so much a part of the fabric of our daily lives, that they hardly seem worth mentioning.
The wonderful thing is that Jesus used His experience of our human world to help us understand His experience of God’s world. He had a foot in both camps, and so knew what He was talking about! With the authority of personal knowledge He could say, "the Kingdom of Heaven is like this or that. Or God is like…" He would then use what He’d learnt during His childhood to illustrate what He meant. His ‘hidden life’ certainly wasn’t wasted; it had furnished His mind with a wealth of experiences, which He could put to good use in His preaching.
As I reflect on the stories He told, the imagery He used, I’m struck by how down to earth Jesus is. Fr. O’Collins points out that the Old Testament compares God with a magnificent eagle supporting its young on its wings and uses this as a glorious parable of God rescuing His people from slavery, (Duet. 32. 11; Exod. 19. 4). But instead of being like the majestic eagle Jesus likens Himself to a mother hen trying to protect her chicks under her wings –but they wouldn’t come, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!" (Lk. 13. 34).
The Son of God has descended from the lofty heights of heaven to the level of the farmyard -to our level! He Himself has said He’s like a mother hen. We wouldn’t dare make such a comparison. The contrast between the regal eagle and the common yard-fowl sums much of what it meant for the Son of God to become man –while still remaining God. Especially during Advent let us make sure that we’re not like those rebellious chicks, which refused to seek the saving sanctuary of the wings of mother hen –Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the saviour of the world!
Isidore Clarke O.P.