4th Sunday of Advent
This weekend the Church celebrates the fourth and last Sunday of Advent 2004.
For its first reading, this weekend’s liturgy offers a reading from the first section of the Book of Isaiah. This reading refers to King Ahaz of the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah. The reference allows scholars to date this prophecy, since it is known that Ahaz reigned in the last third of the 8th century before Christ.
Ahaz is not regarded as having been an especially great king. He hardly met Isaiah’s expectations, hence the prophet chided him.
Ultimately, Isaiah’s criterion for Ahaz, or for any king, was that the king first and foremost was a servant of God and drawing the people to God was the king’s ambition. Since David, especially, kings had been seen as God’s assigned and anointed agents. This religious role overtook all other considerations. The final judgment of how well kings performed was whether or not they were truly loyal to God.
Urged to be loyal and devoted by Isaiah, Ahaz was promised a sign of God’s favor. The sign was the birth of a son, whose mother was Ahaz’s young bride or a virgin who actually was his concubine.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides the second reading. Introducing himself, Paul firmly states that he is an Apostle, called by the Lord to proclaim the Gospel. Above and beyond everything, Paul saw himself as God’s servant, obediently following Jesus, the Lord and Savior.
For its last reading, the Church presents a section from the Gospel of Matthew recalling the conception of Jesus. (Only two of the four Gospels, both of them Synoptics, Matthew and Luke, recount the birth of Jesus.)
This weekend’s reading is very clear, as in Luke. Jesus had no earthly father, but Jesus truly was human. He was the son of Mary, a human being, however, and since she alone was the earthly parent, Jesus received human nature itself from her.
In this story, Joseph is concerned, to say the least. He first understandably assumes that Mary, his betrothed, has been unfaithful to him. How else could Mary have become pregnant? An angel, Gabriel, one of God’s messengers, relieves Joseph’s mind by revealing that the unborn child is in fact the Son of God.
It is more than simply a chronicle of the conception and birth of Jesus, divine though these events may have been. The coming of the Messiah is a sign, perfect and penultimate, of God’s everlasting love for humankind. God never fails, is never absent from people. Finally, the reading tells that Jesus, the Son of God, also is man.
The season of Advent is the careful and focused period preceding Christmas. It is a time for preparation, but it is more than a time to prepare for a festive day.
More fully, Advent calls us joyfully, and with thanksgiving, to remember the Lord’s birth, as a human, the child of Mary, in Bethlehem. However, the Church also provides Advent to assist us in our effort personally to unite with the Lord.
Our union with God, so intimate that we can possess even God’s eternal life, occurred because of our unity first with Jesus in a common humanity. This union, established by creation, was completed in the Lord’s own humanity.
We ratify and reinforce our union with God by individually choosing holiness. Turning us toward prayer, and strengthening spiritual resolve by the uprooting of sin from our lives, the Church not only invites us to observe Advent but also accommodates our spiritual progress. The question is if we shall respond.
As we ponder this question, the Church reassures us. “Be strong!” it advises. God will strengthen and enlighten us. He has never failed in love, mercy and guidance, given in and through Jesus.
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