The historical time before Christ was a time of preparation; grace was seeded throughout the world, and those who accepted it, those who integrated what grace and revelation they had been given into their lives, became great women and men of God. They did not have all that we have, and so we should understand them and their lives within the context which they were lived. They could get things wrong. They could and did misunderstand God and God’s intentions. But they sensed something of God and God’s grace, and they embraced it, which is why they were able to become saints who we not only remember to this day, but honor for all that they had done.
God is love, and that love is capable of embracing people where they are at. Those who came before the incarnation, those who came before the full revelation of God brought to us by the incarnation, were still able to live holy lives worthy of our respect. Indeed, their lives, the ways they interacted with God, helped establish the conditions which led to the incarnation itself. God, in assuming humanity through the incarnation, took them in and made their work and lives tied to the work and history of the incarnation itself. This is why, as we prepare for our celebration of the nativity of Jesus, we remember all those holy women and men who came before him; their lives set the conditions for the incarnation itself, and then Jesus, in his work, lifted up all those who came before him even as he lifts up and brings grace to all of us who come after him in history.
Everyone matters, and so the lives of those who came before Christ matter; their deeds, their embrace of the truth which they knew and understood opened them up to grace, and through that grace, they had enough to give to the word, to seed it, as it were, in history so that the world and all that was in it could be prepared for the incarnation. And in this respect, as St Jerome indicated, they could even be seen as representing types of Jesus, prefiguring the incarnation through their lives: “If the saints are types prefiguring the Savior, truly the holy man, for example Isaia, is a type of the Lord and Savior, and so, too, are Joseph, David, Solomon, and the rest of the saints.”  This is true, not just with all the holy men, but with all the holy women who preceded Christ, represented, for example, by Eve, Sarah, Rachel, Rahab, and Anne. Their lives all reveal something of the truth of God, and as such, they also can be said to prefigure Christ, for Christ reveals in full what they revealed in part. Their stories give us signs of grace, signs of God’s work with the world; their stories are not to be read as pure history, but rather, we should study them and learn from them all the signs and symbols presented in them, that is, for the meaning which we can get out of them. That meaning is Christ, as it should also be the meaning of our lives, where we, like them, should be able to show the world something of the truth of Christ from what we do, and in this way, we will be seen as bringing the continued presence of Christ to the world.
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them.
But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all (Col. 3:4-11 RSV).
We are to have Christ appear in our lives. We do this by becoming one with him. We are to work with and in Christ, representing him to the world, so that others, then, can through us receive a share of that glory, a share of that grace, and become his representatives as well. We are meant to work with Christ to overcome all the barriers which separate us from each other. We are to break down the divisions in the world, especially those which come from selfishness and its fruits, so that Christ truly can be all in all. In some respects, the time before the incarnation and the time after, therefore, serve the same purpose: it is to point to Christ, to find ways to have Christ manifested in the world so that Christ can indeed be revealed all in all, even in history.
While it is clear that the time before the incarnation, the time before Christ, was a time of preparation, we find ourselves in another time before Christ, another time of preparation, because we await the second coming of Christ. We have been given more insight, more graces, than those who came before Christ, so we have much more responsibility than they had. We know the intention of God in a way they did not. We know God in a special way thanks to the revelation of the Trinity. We know that the promised messiah is God. We know that God has come to us to show us the fullness of love, a love which is greater than death itself. We know God calls us to the kingdom so that Christ can be all in all (and through Christ, God will be revealed to be all in all). We are called to share in Christ’s work, to break down the barriers of sin, the barriers of selfishness and hate. Let us make no excuse but rather, let us serve Christ, inviting all to the eternal banquet of the Lord where everyone will be offered the bread of life.
 St. Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome: Volume I (1-59 On the Psalms). Trans. Marie Liguori Ewald, IHM (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1963), 281 [Homily 38].
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