The Word in the Eucharist: Fourth Sunday on Advent
Each year on the Sunday before Christmas, the Church turns her attention to our Blessed Mother. Mary helps us understand the Son she presents to us. The first three weeks of Advent focused on matters like waiting and watching, preparation, and the coming of the Messianic Age. The liturgy of the 4th Sunday marks a shift in focus and concentrates on the Incarnation: the eternal Son of God assumes the entire human nature and is born of the Virgin Mary.
Today’s liturgical readings center on women’s experience at giving birth. Prophet Micah laments the decline of the Davidic kingdom, its falling away from the standards of fidelity to Yahweh set by King David. And, yearning for a new David, Micah fantasizes that Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David, might bring forth another fair and just ruler for the Chosen People. When the mother of that future king gives birth – it had to be a woman in the Davidic line-, then the present distress of Yahweh’s people, like labor pains, will eventually result in joy.
The Gospel centers around two expectant mothers, Mary and Elizabeth. For both, pregnancy was part of a mystery. Elizabeth no longer expected to give birth, considering her age; Mary, betrothed but as yet unmarried, hardly expected to reach that state so early in her life. Elizabeth’s unexpected pregnancy served as a sign that Mary’s pregnancy was the work of God. When Mary learned that her elderly cousing had conceived, she went with haste into the hill country to congratulate her cousin Elizabeth for her pregnancy, and to help her through the final three months.
John the Baptist experienced in Elizabeth’s womb, as did his mother, the presence of his Messiah and Lord upon the arrival of pregnant Mary on her mission of mercy. As soon as Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped for joy. Little John, locked six months in the womb of Elizabeth, sensed somehow the presence of his Lord, locked likewise in Mary’s womb; and he leaped, not as any child leaps within a mother’s body -John leaped for joy. Here is a striking symbol of a remarkable truth: the special sign of God’s coming is joy! God brings joy, and joy is a proof that God has come. John began his prophetic mission right from the womb. He was instrumental in making his mother recognize the Messiah in Mary’s womb, just as he, later, would help others recognize the one more powerful and mightier than himself and so prepare the way of the Lord.
Today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews depicts Jesus at the moment of his entry into our world declaring his ambitious life-project: I have come to do your will. If John the Baptist willingly rcognized Jesus as his Messiah and Lord, Jesus himself voluntarily embraced our frailty in order to submit it to God the Father of all. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate One, comes to take on our flesh, so our flesh might be saved through his own.
As Advent comes rushing to a close, we need to take time to rejoice for what we are, to revel in our human condition. The Jesus-made-flesh, who comes so miraculously and so humanly through an expecting Mary, who believed that nothing is impossible to God, has become a reality beyond our ability to comprehend. We can only ask: Who are we that the Lord himself should come to us in human flesh like our own? Jesus comes not to belittle us, but to enhance us. We know this not from what he says or does, but from who he is, God-in-our-flesh. Jesus is just God’s way of making us feel and be significant!