20 December 2015: Fourth Sunday of Advent

 Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Mi 5:1-4a  Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19  Heb 10:5-10  Lk 1:39-45


Advent: a sense of harmony and wholeness

On this final Advent Sunday, the readings ask the RCIA participants and the entire believing community to prepare to greet the coming king and his kingdom.

In the first reading, the prophet Micah foretells that God will bring salvation through “a ruler… whose origin is from ancient times.” This anointed ruler or messiah (a Hebrew word meaning “anointed”) will be in David’s line. Bethlehem is David’s hometown. Micah says that this ruler “shall be peace (Hebrew: shalom).” Shalom is usually translated as “peace,” but it also carries the ideas of “harmony” and “wholeness.” When Micah says the ruler shall be shalom, he means the messiah both symbolizes shalom (“peace”) and also will bring about shalom (“harmony and wholeness”).

In the second reading, the Letter to the Hebrews’ author reflects on Psalm 40. The psalmist says that God prefers conversion (“I come to do your will”), not simply a prescribed offering or sacrifice. The Hebrews’ author imagines Jesus quoting this psalm–“a body you prepared for me”–at the moment of Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus, in obedience to God’s will, offered his own body in sacrifice. Jesus’ perfect obedience results in a single sacrifice (“once”) that redeems and transforms everyone (“for all”).

In Luke’s gospel, Mary has just heard and accepted God’s Word (Lk 1:28-38); she then travels to visit Elizabeth. Luke identifies two important revelations at this meeting:

  • First proclamation of the good news of the Word: When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting (ἀσπάζομαι, literally “embrace”), Elizabeth’s baby leaps (σκιρτάω, literally “jumps for joy”) in her womb. Luke connects Mary’s greeting with the Good News she carries. Filled with God’s Word, Mary is the first disciple. Mary fulfills a disciple’s duty–she shares the good news with others. John the Baptizer, still in utero, begins his role of alerting people to the messiah’s presence.
  • Blessed are you: Under the Spirit’s influence, Elizabeth calls Mary “blessed” twice. First, Mary’s yes to God’s plan (Lk 1:38) means she will bear the savior (“the mother of my Lord”). Second, Mary’s faith (“blessed are you who believed”) makes the incarnation possible; she is the key to the incarnation mystery.

Despite the hectic run-up to Christmas, Advent’s end–this time of watching, preparing, rejoicing, and conversion–should leave RCIA participants and all of us with a sense of shalom. The coming king, the one who comes to do the Father’s will, restores wholeness to a broken world. Mary and the Baptizer greet us with the news that the Good News is already among us; we who believe are already blessed. Advent opens to Christmas present: what makes us jump for joy?

–Terence Sherlock

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