Tag Archives: 4 Sunday of Advent

24 December 2017: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16   Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29   Rom 16:25-27   Lk 1:26-38

Advent: God’s promises are fulfilled

Purple_banner_sm As our Advent waiting and preparation comes to a close, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with the culmination of the mystery of God-with-us.

In the first reading, the book of Samuel records David’s wish to build God a permanent temple (house). God answers David through the prophet Nathan: God pledges to build David a house (a lineage) that last forever. Christians hear in God’s promise that, from David’s house, an anointed one (messiah) will come to lead and to protect God’s people. Jesus, born with Mary’s active participation, fulfills this prophecy.

In the second reading, Paul tells the Roman ekklesia that God’s mystery, “kept secret for long ages,” is revealed in Jesus’ coming. In Jesus, all Hebrew scripture prophecies attain their full meanings. Gabriel’s words to Mary begin to reveal these hidden meanings.

In Luke’s annunciation narrative, Gabriel presents God’s invitation to Mary. She responds in three parts:

  • Mary’s reaction. Gabriel greets Mary as “God’s favored one.” Luke says the greeting “perplexes” or “greatly confuses” Mary, and then that she “thinks carefully about its implications.” Mary does not passively receive Gabriel’s greeting. She carefully considers what being “God’s favored one” might mean for her.
  • Mary’s question. Mary asks Gabriel: how will this happen? Luke’s Greek Christian community is expecting a Greek mythological divine/human impregnation story, but instead, Gabriel answers Mary using Hebrew scriptural allusions:
    • First, “the holy Spirit will-come-to you.” In Genesis, God’s creative spirit “hovers over” the unformed world (Gn 1:2). Luke uses the same Greek verb to describe the Spirit’s coming both to Mary in today’s reading (v 35) and to the apostles at Pentecost (Ac 1: 8). Luke connects the Spirit’s action at Jesus’ conception with the Spirit’s action at the ekklesia‘s (believing community’s or church’s) beginnings.
    • Next, “God’s-presence-will-shadow you.” The Greek verb ἐπισκιάζω (eh-pee-skee-AHd-zoh) means “to cover” or “to shadow.” Hebrew scripture uses this word to indicate God’s presence at Sinai (Ex 19:9) and especially in the Tent of Meeting (Ex 40:34). Luke uses the same word (v 35) to show Mary as a new Ark of the Covenant, the place where God’s glory resides. Luke connects God’s presence at Jesus’ conception with God’s covenant and protection throughout history.
  • Mary’s answer. Mary’s first statement acknowledges her relationship to God doesn’t require that God offer her a choice. But God invites Mary to participate in human salvation. Mary’s “yes” is a model for Christian discipleship: I give up my plans and myself to do whatever God requires.

For this final Advent Sunday, the readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how God fulfills the promise of salvation. God promises David that his house will last forever. Paul explains to the Romans that we understand God’s promises only through Jesus’ coming. Luke shows us how God’s promises are fulfilled only through human cooperation. The annunciation is neither history or myth. Luke presents a theological conversation between Mary and Gabriel, revealing that Jesus is God and savior, incarnated into our human experience in a unique and extraordinary way, with the cooperation of someone just like us. Jesus invites us to discipleship. Like Mary, we can choose to cooperate in God’s saving plans.

—Terence Sherlock


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18 December 2016: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 7:10-14 Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 Rom 1:1-7 Mt 1:18-24


Advent: becoming present to incarnation mystery

Purple_banner_sm As our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas comes to a close, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with the mystery of God-with-us.

In the first reading Isaiah tells the embattled king Ahaz to ask God for a reassuring sign. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, but God provides one: Ahaz’s young wife will have a son (indicating Ahaz’s line will continue) and that this son (the future king Hezekiah) will represent God’s presence to Ahaz’s subjects. Christians understood Isaiah’s prophecy about a miraculous birth and God-with-us as referring to the incarnation.

In the second reading from the beginning of his letter to the Romans, Paul describes Jesus’ human and divine origins. First, “according to the flesh,” Jesus was descended from David and therefore the messiah. Then, “according to the spirit of holiness”–another way of saying “the Holy Spirit”–Jesus was also the Son of God. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to introduce today’s gospel.

In the gospel, Mathew describes the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. To see the tensions in Matthew’s story, we need to understand social customs of the times:

  • Jewish marriage customs. First-century Jewish marriage had two phases:
    • Betrothal: During this period, the bride remained with her family while the bride’s and groom’s parents arranged and negotiated the marriage. On agreement, both families’ patriarchs publicly announced the marriage. The bride continued to live in her father’s house for up to a year.
    • Coming-together: In the second phase, the groom took the bride from her father’s house and brought her to his house. The groom’s removal of the bride from her family completed the marriage process.

During the betrothal phase, a bride who had sex with a man other than the groom was considered an adulteress. To dissolve a Jewish marriage, the groom applied to the synagogue leaders for a writ of divorce. The groom could also have the adulterous bride punished under Mosaic law by stoning. Roman law, however, forbade Jewish capital punishment; instead it required a public trial to grant a divorce.

  • The angel’s message. Appearing in Joseph’s dream, the angel confirms that Mary is pregnant not by another man, but through God’s action. The angel tells Joseph to do two things: First, Joseph should complete their marriage by taking Mary “into his home.” Second, Joseph should claim the child as his son “by naming him Jesus.” This act gives Jesus all Joseph’s heredity rights, including his royal descent from David.

As we come to the end of our Advent waiting, the readings ask RCIA participants and the whole believing community to consider the mysteries of Jesus’ birth. For Isaiah, Ahaz’s son represented hope and presence. For Paul, Jesus is both David’s human son and God’s own son. For Matthew, God’s inbreaking disrupted Mary’s and Joseph’s simple lives, creating social tension (a betrothal pregnancy) and possible danger (Mosaic law’s punishment). The incarnation mystery makes God present to humans (God-with-us, Emmanuel) in new ways. God is fully human in Jesus who was born, lived, taught, healed, fed, forgave, died, and rose. The incarnation mystery also initiates God’s continuing presence with humans though sacramental forms and encounters. God is fully present with us. Are we fully present to this mystery?

—Terence Sherlock

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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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