Fourth Sunday of Advent
This weekend the Church celebrates the fourth and last Sunday of Advent 2019.
For its first reading, this weekend’s liturgy offers a reading from the first section of the Book of Isaiah. The reading refers to King Ahaz of the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah.
Ahaz reigned in the last third of the eighth century before Christ. To be kind, he is not regarded as having been a remarkably successful king. Prompting Isaiah’s interest in Ahaz, or in any king, was not necessarily the monarch’s obvious power and renown, but rather the fact that the king first and foremost was, or should be, the servant of God.
Urged to be loyal and devoted, Ahaz was promised a sign of God’s favor. It was the birth of a son, whose mother was Ahaz’s young bride, a virgin.
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, he insisted, he was God’s servant.
For its last reading, the Church presents a section from the Gospel of Matthew. Only two of the four Gospels, both of them Synoptics, recount the birth of Jesus. Matthew is one of these Gospels. Luke is the other.
This weekend’s reading recalls the conception of Jesus. It says clearly, as Luke states, that Jesus had no earthly father, but the Lord was the son of Mary, a human being.
In this story, Joseph is concerned, to say the least. He first, understandably, wonders if 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.
This weekend the Church calls us to observe the last Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent is the careful and focused period preceding Christmas. In our culture, it is a time to prepare gifts to present to those whom we love.
The custom of gift-giving has religious origins. It mimics the Magi, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. We give gifts to others, in whom we see Jesus, precious because the Lord died for them. Love, the very essence of God, impels us. Advent calls us to give ourselves to God.
An old European legend has a message. Once, in a great city, at Christmas, the people presented gifts before the Nativity scene in the cathedral. The rich and mighty vied with each other to offer the most expensive gift.
A poor orphan boy dreamed of offering a gift, but he had nothing. One day, he found an old gold button on the street. He took it, scrubbed it and laboriously polished it. Tiny, bent and broken, it nevertheless gleamed with his unquestioning love.
Christmas came. In full view of the whole congregation, the “important” people paraded to the crib and placed their gaudy gifts before it.
This cathedral had great bells in its tower. At times, without cause, they suddenly would ring. People said that they rang when God was pleased
Ashamed of his paltry gift, the boy knelt in the shadows until Mass ended. Then, with no one watching, he laid his little button before the image of the Christ Child. The bells rang out in a melody more beautiful than anyone could remember.
God asks for our honest, total love, nothing more, nothing less.
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