4th Sunday of Advent - December 20th, 2009
3rd Sunday of Advent - December 13th, 2009
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - December 8th, 2009
Second Sunday of Advent - December 6th, 2009
First Sunday of Advent - November 29, 2009
4th Sunday of Advent - December 20th, 2009
Luke 1:39-45 (see also “The ‘New Ark’”)
A Mother’s Greeting>>>>Listen
On this last Sunday before Christmas, the Church’s Liturgy reveals the true identity of our Redeemer:
He is, as today’s First Reading says, the “ruler…whose origin is from…ancient times.” He will come from Bethlehem, where David was born of Jesse the Ephrathite and anointed king (see Ruth 4:11-17; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 17:1; Matthew 2:6).
God promised that an heir of David would reign on his throne forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalm 89; Psalm 132:11-12).
Jesus is that heir, the One the prophets promised would restore the scattered tribes of Israel into a new kingdom (see Isaiah 9:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-25,30; 37:35). He is “the shepherd of Israel,” sung of in today’s Psalm. From His throne in heaven, He has “come to save us.”
Today’s Epistle tells us that He is both the Son of David and the only “begotten” Son of God, come “in the flesh” (see also Psalm 2:7). He is also our “high priest,” from the mold of the mysterious Melchisedek, “priest of God Most High,” who blessed Abraham at the dawn of salvation history (see Psalm 110:4; Genesis 14:18-20).
All this is recognized by John when he leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth, too, is filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. She recognizes that in Mary “the mother of my Lord” has come to her. We hear in her words another echo of the Psalm quoted in today’s Epistle (see Psalm 2:7). Elizabeth blesses Mary for her faith that God’s Word would be fulfilled in her.
Mary marks the fulfillment not only of the angel’s promise to her, but of all God’s promises down through history. Mary is the one they await in today’s First Reading - “she who is to give birth.” She will give birth this week, at Christmas. And the fruit of her womb should bring us joy - she is the mother of our Lord.
The New ‘Ark’
The Church in her liturgy and tradition has long praised Mary as “the Ark of the New Covenant.” We see biblical roots for this in the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (Cycle C).
Compare Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth with the story of David returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and you’ll hear interesting echoes.
As Mary “set out” for the hill country of Judah, so did David (see Luke 1:19; 2 Samuel 6:2). David, upon seeing the Ark, cries out “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth says the same thing about “the mother of my Lord” (see Luke 1:43; 2 Samuel 6:9).
John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, as David danced before the Ark (see Luke 1:41; 2 Samuel 6:16). And as the Ark stayed three months in “the house of Obed-edom,” Mary stays three months in “the house of Zechariah” (see Luke 1:40,56; 2 Samuel 6:11).
The Greek word Luke uses to describe Elizabeth’s loud cry of joy (anaphoneo) isn’t used anywhere else in the New Testament. And it’s found in only five places in the Greek Old Testament - every time used to describe “exultation” before the Ark (see 1 Chronicles 15:28; 16:4-5; 2 Chronicles 5:13).
Coincidences? Hardly. The old Ark contained the tablets of the Law, the manna from the desert and the priestly staff of Aaron (see Hebrews 9:4). In Mary, the new Ark, we find the Word of God, the Bread of Life and the High Priest of the new people of God (see also Catechism, no. 2676).
December 8th, 2009 - Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
The Angel and Mary
In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the angel Gabriel greets Mary in an unusual way: “Hail, favored one” (see Luke 1:28).
Kecharitomene, the Greek word translated as “favored one,” is very rare, used in only one other place in the New Testament. It comes from charis, the Greek word for “grace” and basically means “made full of grace” or “transformed by grace.”
This is how the word is used in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he describes how God “granted” His grace to all of us in Jesus (see Ephesians 1:6-7). This sheds light on what the angel means - Mary has been “transformed by God’s grace.”
Notice that the angel doesn’t mention Mary’s name. That’s odd, too. There’s no other angelic greeting like this in Scripture. It’s as if Mary’s name is “favored one” or “made full of grace.”
In Scripture, when God gives a person a new name, it reveals the person’s role in His saving plan. Think of Abraham - the father of all nations (see Genesis 17:5), or Peter, the Church’s “rock” (see Matthew 16:18). Mary is God’s favored one, transformed by God’s grace to be the sinless mother of His only-begotten Son.
That’s why the angel’s greeting is one of the biblical foundations for Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate December 8. Listen closely to the Mass readings that day - you’ll hear the angel’s greeting, and Paul’s beautiful words about God’s transforming grace.
December 13, 2009 - 3rd Sunday in Advent
What Do We Do?
The people in today’s Gospel are “filled with expectation.” They believe John the Baptist might be the Messiah they’ve been waiting for. Three times we hear their question: “What then should we do?”
The Messiah’s coming requires every man and woman to choose - to “repent” or not. That’s John’s message and it will be Jesus’ too (see Luke 3:3; 5:32; 24:47).
“Repentance” translates a Greek word, metanoia (literally, “change of mind”). In the Scriptures, repentance is presented as a two-fold “turning” - away from sin (see Ezekiel 3:19; 18:30) and toward God (see Sirach 17:20-21; Hosea 6:1).
This “turning” is more than attitude adjustment. It means a radical life-change. It requires “good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (see Luke 3:8). That’s why John tells the crowds, soldiers and tax collectors they must prove their faith through works of charity, honesty and social justice.
In today’s Liturgy, each of us is being called to stand in that crowd and hear the “good news” of John’s call to repentance. We should examine our lives, ask from our hearts as they did: “What should we do?” Our repentance should spring, not from our fear of coming wrath (see Luke 3:7-9), but from a joyful sense of the nearness of our saving God.
This theme resounds through today’s readings: “Rejoice!...The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all,” we hear in today’s Epistle. In today’s Responsorial, we hear again the call to be joyful, unafraid at the Lord’s coming among us.
In today’s First Reading, we hear echoes of the angel’s Annunciation to Mary. The prophet’s words are very close to the angel’s greeting (compare Luke 1:28-31). Mary is the Daughter Zion - the favored one of God, told not to fear but to rejoice that the Lord is with her, “a mighty Savior.”
She is the cause of our joy. For in her draws near the Messiah, as John had promised: “One mightier than I is coming.”
Today’s Psalm paints a dream-like scene - a road filled with liberated captives heading home to Zion (Jerusalem), mouths filled with laughter, tongues rejoicing.
It’s a glorious picture from Israel’s past, a “new exodus,” the deliverance from exile in Babylon. It’s being recalled in a moment of obvious uncertainty and anxiety. But the psalmist isn’t waxing nostalgic.
Remembering “the Lord has done great things” in the past, he is making an act of faith and hope - that God will come to Israel in its present need, that He’ll do even greater things in the future.
This is what the Advent readings are all about: We recall God’s saving deeds - in the history of Israel and in the coming of Jesus. Our remembrance is meant to stir our faith, to fill us with confidence that, as today’s Epistle puts it, “the One who began a good work in [us] will continue to complete it” until He comes again in glory.
Each of us, the Liturgy teaches, is like Israel in her exile - led into captivity by our sinfulness, in need of restoration, conversion by the Word of the Holy One (see Baruch 5:5). The lessons of salvation history should teach us that, as God again and again delivered Israel, in His mercy He will free us from our attachments to sin, if we turn to Him in repentance.
That’s the message of John, introduced in today’s Gospel as the last of the great prophets (compare Jeremiah 1:1-4,11). But John is greater than the prophets (see Luke 7:27). He’s preparing the way, not only for a new redemption of Israel, but for the salvation of “all flesh” (see also Acts 28:28).
John quotes Isaiah (40:3) to tell us he’s come to build a road home for us, a way out of the wilderness of sin and alienation from God. It’s a road we’ll follow Jesus down, a journey we’ll make, as today’s First Reading puts it, “rejoicing that [we’re] remembered by God.”
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Every Advent, the Liturgy of the Word gives our sense of time a reorientation. There’s a deliberate tension in the next four weeks’ readings - between promise and fulfillment, expectation and deliverance, between looking forward and looking back.
In today’s First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah focuses our gaze on the promise God made to David, some 1,000 years before Christ. God says through the prophet that He will fulfill this promise by raising up a “just shoot,” a righteous offspring of David, who will rule Israel in justice (see 2 Samuel 7:16; Jeremiah 33:17; Psalm 89:4-5; 27-38).
Today’s Psalm, too, sounds the theme of Israel’s ancient expectation: “Guide me in Your truth and teach Me. For You are God my Savior and for You I will wait all day.”
We look back on Israel’s desire and anticipation knowing that God has already made good on those promises by sending His only Son into the world. Jesus is the “just shoot,” the God and Savior for Whom Israel was waiting.
Knowing that He is a God who keeps His promises lends grave urgency to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Urging us to keep watch for His return in glory, He draws on Old Testament images of chaos and instability – turmoil in the heavens (see Isaiah 13:11,13; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10); roaring seas (see Isaiah 5:30; 17:12); distress among the nations (see Isaiah 8:22/14:25) and terrified people (see Isaiah 13:6-11).
He evokes the prophet Daniel’s image of the Son of Man coming on a cloud of glory to describe His return as a “theophany,” a manifestation of God (see Daniel 7:13-14).
Many will cower and be literally scared to death. But Jesus says we should greet the end-times with heads raised high, confident that God keeps His promises, that our “redemption is at hand,” that ‘the kingdom of God is near” (see Luke 21:31)