4th Sunday of Advent Mt 1:18-24
This weekend the Church celebrates the fourth and last Sunday of Advent 2013.
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.
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. It is easy to understand why Isaiah prodded him more than once.
Prompting Isaiah’s interest in Ahaz, or in any king, was not necessarily the monarch’s obvious power and prestige, but rather the fact that the king first and foremost was the servant of God. The rulers were God’s assigned and anointed agents. This religious fact 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, Ahaz was promised a sign of God’s favor. It was the birth of a son, whose mother was Ahaz’s young bride or a virgin who 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, he was God’s servant, obediently following Jesus. Of course, the Apostle devoutly believed that Jesus was Lord and Savior.
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 is very clear, as in Luke, that Jesus had no earthly father. He was the son of Mary, a human being, 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 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. It is more than a time to prepare for a festive day of good food and good cheer.
Of course, it looks to the occasion of remembering the Lord’s birth. The Church sees another purpose, and it provides Advent to assist us in this purpose, 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 own personal unions with God by individually choosing holiness. Thus, Advent is at our disposal. The question is if we shall respond.
Growth in faith and in discipleship has never been easy. Advent liturgies often centered on John the Baptist, killed because of his fidelity to God.
Facing our own temptations, 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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