Sunday Scripture: God’s promise fulfilled
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Micah 5:1-4; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
By Father Timothy P. Schehr
The Gospel for this last Advent Sunday brings us very close to the birth of Lord. The scene is Mary’s visit with Elizabeth. Mary rushes to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. The reason for her haste is Gabriel’s news that Elizabeth, regarded as beyond the age of child-bearing, is already in her sixth month. Though a relative, Mary had not known this. The reason for her being unaware is very likely the imposed silence on Zechariah (and therefore Elizabeth too) because of his disbelief that the angel’s message was true. Now that she knows of God’s gift to her relative, Mary is excited to share in their joy
As soon as Mary’s greeting reaches her ears the child Elizabeth carries stirs in her womb. Elizabeth does not miss the meaning of this. Her baby John already is faithful to his role as the Lord’s herald. For her part Elizabeth is likewise ready to respond to God’s saving plan. Filled with the Holy Spirit she sings the praises of Mary and the child she carries. Her voice is loud because she speaks for everyone awaiting the fulfillment of God’s saving plan. Two ages meet in this visit. Elizabeth speaks for the old age awaiting fulfillment; Mary the new age initiated by the Lord she carries.
Elizabeth’s next words express unworthiness. She is humbled by Mary’s presence and the presence of her child. Mary believes the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled; Zechariah had not believed. Elizabeth is well aware of the difference. She knows the advantages that come with faith in God’s word. And she knows what can be missed by lack of faith in that word. Now at last she has someone with whom to share the good news.
Like Mary and Elizabeth, the prophet Micah looks ahead to a restored bond between God and people. He knows the seeds of this ideal future were planted long ago when the kingdom was in its early years. In those “ancient times” the prophet Samuel was directed by God to anoint David. Saul had failed in his role as king, never turning God for guidance and never appreciating the realm of the spirit. David showed much more spiritual awareness and thus he received God’s promise that his kingdom would endure.
By worldly standards Bethlehem was insignificant. But by the standards of heaven, Bethlehem was very important. Through the prophet Micah God declares that one day another king will rise form the royal house of David. This ideal king will be good shepherd over His people. This ideal king will succeed where the bad shepherds failed; He will keep a watchful eye over the flock. This ideal king will be a loyal servant of God. He will enrich the people will all the advantages that come with a right relationship with God.
The second reading also gives us a picture of the new and better age introduced by the birth of Jesus. The author of Hebrews puts on the lips of Jesus words very appropriate for His coming into the world. We hear Jesus speaking verses from Psalm 40. He declares his coming in bodily form to be superior to any sacrifice. The incarnate Son of God offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all. His is a once-for-all sacrifice. There is no need for the continuing cycle of sacrifices offered up in the Jerusalem temple. As the author of Hebrew states so clearly God “takes away the first to establish the second.”
Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.