December 20, 2015 — Fourth Sunday of Advent
It seems we look forward to Christmas for a long time. That is certainly true of children. Advent reminds us that Christmas is approaching, and we are called to spiritually prepare for Christ’s arrival and coming. On this Fourth Sunday of Advent it is upon us and truly imminent. Our readings present a cross section of Christmas reminders and feelings.
Micah is one of the “minor” prophets in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, there is nothing “minor” about his vision of the Messiah. Our reading for this last Sunday of Advent announces in precise and poetic language the coming of the Lord. “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; and they shall remain, for how his greatness shall reach the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” Note that Jesus will not bring peace; Jesus is peace. How often do we hear references to peace at this time of year: “Peace on earth; goodwill toward men.”
The Messiah will come from Bethlehem, which was also the hometown of David. You may have heard that the meaning of Bethlehem in Aramaic is “House of Bread,” an appropriate name for the place where the Savior, who will give us the Bread of Life, to be born. In the reading from Micah, however, it is called Bethlehem-Ephrathah. That name “Ephrathah” is also significant. Ephrathah was the old and original name of Bethlehem. Ephrathah means “fruitfulness” or “abundance.” We are preparing for the abundance of Christ, the fruit of Mary’s womb.
The Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews is brief, but it is as noteworthy as Micah’s prophetic vision of Christ. The writer speaks of “sacrifices and offerings.” We must always think of the fact that this anticipates Jesus’ sacrifice for us; it is not our sacrifice. We rejoice at the coming of Jesus, but we must not overlook why He is coming — for our salvation. In Hebrews the writer states over and over the last three words of today’s scriptural passage: “once for all.” Jesus came for all of us. That is why we rejoice at the gladness of His arrival in just a few days.
Finally our Gospel Reading from St. Luke links three central figures in our faith — Jesus, His Blessed Mother Mary, and St. John the Baptist, who will bring the message of Jesus Christ. The Gospel details Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, who is also carrying a child. There are elements within this reading with which we are all familiar, and they are particularly fitting on this final Sunday of our Advent journey. When Mary hears that Elizabeth is expecting, she immediately sets out to visit her in “the hill country.” It was a journey of some 100 miles for Mary the Mother to be. The two most memorable items in the reading may be Elizabeth’s response upon seeing St. Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” a key part of our immortal prayer “Hail Mary.”
In addition, Elizabeth relates how her baby, John the Baptist, “leaped for joy” at the presence of Jesus. Even though St. John the Baptist was still in his mother’s womb, he was filled with joy, the same happiness and bliss we are reaching for at this time of year. Elizabeth, like Mary, is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what we are seeking and what we have been preparing for throughout Advent, the ecstasy that comes by allowing the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts, and the wonder and contentment and gladness we should have at Christmas.