Fourth Sunday of Advent
This weekend the Church observes the last Sunday in Advent. The first reading is from the Book of Micah.
Micah is regarded as one of the minor prophets. It is a relatively short book, containing only seven chapters. By contrast, the Book of Isaiah has 66 chapters.
Very few biographical facts about the author of Micah are known, but it is thought that the author was a contemporary of Isaiah, the author of the first section of the Book of Isaiah, and that he came from a small village some 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem.
As was the case with so many prophets of ancient Israel, Micah saw his mission as calling the chosen people away from indifference to God, and from sin to piety and to loyalty to the Covenant with God. He lived in a time when piety was in short supply. Greed and exploitation flawed the economy. Religious practices were sparse and often insincere, and poorly presented when they did occur.
In this weekend’s reading, Micah promises that a savior will come. This savior will lead the people away from sin and to God. To be precise, the savior will come from Bethlehem.
Of course, for Micah, the reference is to a king who comes from Bethlehem. Kings had special roles for ancient Hebrews.
The royal role was not primarily political. It was religious. The king’s task was the see that the nation upheld the Covenant, that the people obeyed God.
The Savior inherited this role. When the Savior appears, all will be well because the nation will obey God.
For its second reading, the Church gives us a lesson from the Book of Hebrews.
Heavy with its Hebrew symbolism, this letter eloquently extolls Jesus as Lord and as the Lamb of God.
In Hebrews, Jesus appears as the perfect victim and priest. His sacrifice on Calvary was sublime, perfect and utterly unique.
It was final because its effects are eternal, providing for humanity’s reconciliation with God. The result will never cease, so no other sacrifices are necessary. All has been accomplished.
St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the story of the Visitation. Mary traveled from her own home to a place in the hills of Judah. Traditionally, it has been thought that this place is the site now called Ein Karem. Once a few miles from Jerusalem, it has been absorbed by the sprawl of the city and for all practical purposes is today a part of Jerusalem.
Mary traveled to meet her cousin, Elizabeth, the wife of Zachariah. Elizabeth herself is pregnant. Elizabeth’s unborn child would be John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for Christ.
Since Elizabeth was past the childbearing age for a woman, her conception was regarded as miraculous.
Elizabeth knew that Mary was expecting a child, and additionally she realized that Mary’s child will be the messiah.
Elizabeth’s unborn child understood all that is transpiring and sensed God in the presence of Mary and her own unborn infant. Thus, even before birth, John testified that Jesus, also yet to be born, will be the Messiah.
It is the last Sunday of Advent. Christmas preparations are hectic. Everyone is buying gifts.
Less attention may be given the spiritual preparation for Christmas, but the Church calls us to reality. Jesus is everything. He is the greatest gift, God’s gift, given in love for us.
In the writings of Micah, the Church confidently tells us that when we allow Jesus to come to us, peace and happiness will abide with us. In Hebrews, it proclaims the everlasting loving mercy of God.
In the Gospel, the Church reinforces its belief in Jesus as Lord. We should welcome the Lord as Elizabeth welcomed Mary.
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