4th Sunday in Advent
This weekend observes the last Sunday in Advent. The first reading is from the Book of Micah, who is regarded as one of the Minor Prophets, in large part because of the book’s brevity.
It contains only seven chapters. (By contrast, the Book of Isaiah has 66 chapters. The author was a contemporary of Isaiah, the author of the first section of the Book of Isaiah.)
Very few biographical facts about the author of Micah are known. He came from a small village some 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. However, nothing is known of his background.
As did so many prophets of ancient Israel, Micah was determined to call his people, the Chosen People, back to God and away from sin. He argued for piety and for loyalty to the covenant with God. Furthermore, he warned that indifference to God only led to disaster, personal as well as national.
In his day, piety was in short supply. Greed and exploitation overwhelmed the economy, merely indications of rampant personal greed. Religious practices were sparse and often insincere and poorly presented when they did occur.
Amid all this, Micah promises that a savior will come. This savior will lead the people away from sin and to God. The savior will come from Bethlehem.
Here, Micah refers to David, who was born in Bethlehem. David was so important. As king of Israel, his royal role was not primarily political, but rather it was religious. His task was to see that the people obeyed God.
Micah forecasts that when this savior becomes king, all will be well. All will be at peace.
For its second reading, the church this weekend gives us a lesson from the Book of Hebrews. Heavy with its Hebrew symbolism, this epistle also is renowned for brilliantly extolling 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. Also, it was eternal. Its effects of reconciling humanity with God will never cease. Thus 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 travels 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 growth of the city and for all practical purposes is today a part of Jerusalem.
Mary goes to meet her cousin, Elizabeth, the wife of Zachariah. Elizabeth herself is pregnant. Since Elizabeth was past the childbearing age for a woman, her conception was regarded as miraculous. Her child had a special destiny. He was holy. Elizabeth’s unborn child will be John the Baptist.
Elizabeth realizes that Mary is expecting a child, but Mary’s child will be the messiah. Elizabeth’s unborn child understands the profound character of all that is transpiring, and the unborn child senses God in the presence of Mary and her own unborn infant. Elizabeth and her unborn testify to the Messiah.
It is the last weekend of Advent. Christmas will be within the week. For almost everyone, it will be a busy, hurried day, even if a day of excitement, anticipation and joy.
Nevertheless, there is time to make Christmas a personal spiritual event. So, in these readings during Advent’s last weekend, the church calls us to Jesus. He is everything, the church emphatically and joyfully declares. In the words of Hebrews, in the words of Luke, Jesus is the answer to every human need.
The writings of Micah remind us that when we allow Jesus to come to us, all peace and happiness will abide with us.
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