4th Sunday of Advent (Cycle B) – December 24, 2017

Here Comes Jesus!
Advent, which comes from the Latin word for “arrival” or “coming,” is a period of preparation for the birth of our Lord. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and it ends at the start of the Christmas Season, which lasts through the Baptism of Our Lord.  Advent is effectively summed up in the theological phrase, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” i.e., the Mystery of the Incarnation (John 1:14). The first Sunday of Advent also marks the beginning of the liturgical year, the Church’s “New Year’s Day,” at which time we change the cycle of readings we are using at Mass (Cycle A – Matthew, B – Mark, C – Luke).
Advent is a time of joyous anticipation, but also of penance and preparation for the great Christmas feast. The liturgical color of the season is purple, a sign of penance, which is also used during Lent. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday because in Latin, the first words of the opening antiphon for that day’s Mass are “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). On this Sunday rose-colored vestments are permitted and the rose-colored candle is lit as a reminder that we are called to rejoice.
We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily, both for Christmas and for His Second Coming.

This Sunday’s Theme: Jesus Christ Will Reign Forever

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, the liturgy shifts our attention from John the Baptist to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both John the Baptist and Mary serve as important figures for our reflection during the season of Advent; they both played instrumental roles in preparing the way for Jesus. Last week we reflected on John the Baptist’s announcement that the Savior was among us, although not yet recognized. This week we reflect upon Mary’s example of faith and obedience to God, traits which permitted her to receive the angel’s message that God’s Son would be born as a human person, as one of us.

“Set before your eyes the blessed Virgin Mary, whose purity was such that
She earned the reward of being the Mother of the Lord.” (St. Jerome)
“Dear God, Make my soul Your cherished dwelling place, Your home of rest.
Let me never leave You there alone, but keep me there all absorbed in You,
in living faith, adoring You.”  (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity)

Reading 1 2 Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12,14a,16     The Lord promises David that He will raise from David’s descendants a kingdom that will endure forever.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 89:2-5,27,29     A prayer of praise to the Lord for His faithfulness to His covenant.
Reading 2 Romans 16:25-27     Paul praises God for making His revelation known.
Gospel –  Luke 1:26-38     The angel Gabriel visits Mary to announce the birth of Jesus.

Reading 1     2 Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12,14a,16               (A King Forever)

Context – God writes lessons for us not only in words but also by events. Among these events, one of the most prominent is the dependence of a nation’s happiness on its leaders’ personal holiness. First and Second Samuel contrasts the personalities and events in the lives of the early Israeli leaders – Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David.

Today’s Reading – At this point in his career, David has defeated his enemies, reunited the twelve tribes of Israel into one nation and established Jerusalem as his capital. Now he wants to centralize the worship of Israel by building a Temple in Jerusalem. But God informs David, through the prophet Nathan, He has other plans for him.

When King David was settled in his palace, and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God dwells in a tent!” (The Ark is the sign of Yahweh’s covenant with His people and their protection against every coercive power. The Ark was carried before the troops when they entered into battle.) Nathan answered the king, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.” (Almost all of the religions in the Ancient Near East had the idea that their gods and goddesses usually resided in their temples.) But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: “Go, tell My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Should you build Me a house to dwell in?’

“It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. (When we begin to enjoy some success, we would do well to remind ourselves of where we came from and how we arrived at our place of blessing. It’s all God’s doing by His working through us and our cooperating with Him.) And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for My people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over My people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also reveals to you that He will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. (This prophecy partly relates to Solomon, David’s son; but much more to Christ, who is called the Son of David in Scripture, and the builder of the true temple, which is the Church, His everlasting Kingdom, which shall never fail, nor be cast off for any iniquity of her children.) I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to Me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before Me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           David didn’t build the Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, his son Solomon is the one chosen by God for this task. Some scholars say – This is not a rejection of David, but a glorification of him through his son. Other scholars say – David’s background of shedding blood in times of war was God’s reason for choosing David’s son instead. God wanted a man of peace to construct the temple, not a man of war. His house was to be “a house of prayer for all nations”. Still other scholars say – David had become ritually unclean when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah murdered.

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 89:2-5,27,29             (An Eternal Covenant)

Today’s Psalm – This psalm echoes the sentiments of Reading 1 by focusing on God’s fidelity to His promise to be with His people forever.

R. – Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
The promises of the LORD I will sing forever; through all generations my mouth shall proclaim Your faithfulness. For You have said, “My kindness is established forever”; in heaven You have confirmed Your faithfulness.
R. – Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David My servant: Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. – Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“He shall say of Me, ‘You are my father, my God, the Rock, my Savior.’ Forever I will maintain My kindness toward him, and My covenant with him stands firm.”
R. – Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.  

Reading 2.     Romans 16:25-27                     (Faith and Obedience)        

Context – Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the most influential of all his Epistles, and the only writing of Paul’s which is addressed to a church (congregation) which he did not establish. He addresses the grounds we have for hope in Christ. Sin and death came by Adam: grace and life by Christ. The saving work of Jesus is a major theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans – salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today’s Reading – These verses appear to have been selected for their reference to the “mystery” which was hidden for all ages but which is now made manifest. The “mystery” is God’s plan for the salvation of all people without distinction.  Jesus is at the center of this plan. It had been God’s will since the very beginning of everything to send His Word, His Savior, for the benefit and salvation of everyone.

Brothers and sisters: To Him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings (the Old Testament) and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith (Saint Paul sees faith as a process that begins with hearing and ends with a personal commitment and submission. This is what St James calls “faith and works.” Faith = obedient belief. The Holy Spirit’s abiding presence enables all God’s people to carry out God’s will and to live obediently before Him.), to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           According to the “mystery kept secret from eternity, now made manifest”; St Paul means the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, and humankind’s redemption, formerly revealed to the prophets, but now made known to all nations, in order to bring all humankind to the obedience of the gospel, by embracing the faith and doctrine of Christ. (St. Chrysostom.)
Obedience of faith: Catechism 143 –  By faith, humankind completely submits their intellect and their will to God. With their whole being humankind gives their assent to God the Revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the Author of revelation, “the obedience of faith”. Catechism 2087 – Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals His love to us. St. Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith” as our first obligation. He shows that “ignorance of God” is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations. Our duty toward God is to believe in Him and to bear witness to Him.

Gospel     Luke 1:26-38                     (Mary’s Consent)

Context – Luke was a physician and a follower of Paul. His Gospel was written in 59-61 AD. He was probably the only Gentile writer in the Bible. Luke’s gospel includes Jesus words and works in Galilee, His journey to Jerusalem (which includes more episodes of Jesus’ life than do the other Evangelists), and His last week in Jerusalem. For later chapters of Luke: Jesus is now in Jerusalem for His passion. He has made His triumphal entry which we celebrate on Passion (Palm) Sunday, He has upset the establishment by cleansing the temple. The Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees are all now interested in getting rid of Him.
Today’s Reading –   The Annunciation. At the beginning of the Gospel story, we are told that Joseph, Mary’s future husband, is of the house of David. So, the promise God made to David, in Reading 1, will be brought to fruition in Mary’s child. He will be given the throne of David and will rule forever. Mary’s initial response to the angel Gabriel’s appearance and greeting is fear, a pretty common reaction.  Feeling Mary’s fear, the angel speaks one of the most common phrases in Scripture: “Do not be afraid.” The angel proceeds to tell Mary about her “miraculous conception.” While remaining a virgin, she will conceive a Child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Unlike any other child before or after Him, this Child will be both human (born of Mary) and divine (born of the Spirit). In the Annunciation story, the name ‘Jesus’ is significant. The name means ‘Savior.’ His purpose and mission will be to bring salvation to His people. To help Mary grow in her understanding of God’s strange way, the angel informs Mary of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Though advanced in years, she too is with child (John the Baptist) – for “nothing is impossible with God.” The Gospel story concludes with Mary’s ‘fiat’ (“Let it be done to me.”)—Mary’s ‘yes.’ Her ‘yes’ to the angel makes her a model disciple. It expresses her openness and receptivity to God’s call.
Thus, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, built by David’s son Solomon, contained the Arc of the Covenant and was the location of God’s Presence for the Chosen People, now Mary herself becomes the Arc of the New Covenant for a short time, the new location of God’s Presence (Jesus) in the Mystery of the Incarnation for the whole world.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (The common Lord of all ought in His birth to have something common with all humankind, and still something different. He was conceived and born in the womb like the rest of humankind, but He differed from them in being born of a virgin. -St. Chrysostom) And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the Child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Catechism 148 – The Virgin Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith. By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that “with God nothing will be impossible” and so giving her assent: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.” Elizabeth greeted her: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It is for this faith that all generations have called Mary blessed.