Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): From a barren, elderly woman John the Baptist will be born. From a place “too small” our Ruler shall come forth. And “when she who is to give birth has borne” – she, a mere girl and Virgin – then God’s “greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth.” We need the humble paradox of this divine design. For when we see God use nothingness in such a glorious way, “then we will no more withdraw” from Him. Our inadequacy, our deficiency would conspire to keep us apart from Him. But the closeness of the expectant Mary makes us leap like John the Baptist in his mother’s womb. As we beg, “Give us new life!” we know that in Mary’s maternal presence our prayer is already being answered.
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a (Revised Standard Version; 5:1-4a, NAB)
A reading from the book of the prophet Micah.
Thus says the LORD: You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore the LORD shall give them up
until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth;
then the rest of his brethren shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
He shall be peace.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: From the time of King David’s defeat of the Philistines, the children of Israel – whether united or divided – had enjoyed security within the lands God had promised to Moses. Three hundred years had passed, however, and Israel had increasingly chased other gods and thought of their security in purely human terms. Now, in the last part of the eighth century before Christ, they were beginning to pay the price for their unfaithfulness. Assyria had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Their armies were penetrating the Southern Kingdom of Judah and knocking at the gates of Jerusalem. Though Judah at the time had a king faithful to God (Hezekiah), its people surely had reason to ask: Who will save us from these gathering shadows?
Isaiah, the great prophet of Hezekiah’s court, had told the good king’s evil father, Ahaz, that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel,” meaning “God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14). Now Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, proclaims where this Son would be born: Bethlehem. We look back today and say, “Why not? It was David’s birthplace.” Indeed so – but Bethlehem in Micah and Isaiah’s day was hardly the seat of kings. It was a small village in the shadow of the “City of David,” Jerusalem, and would be little larger seven hundred years later. And yet God decreed that another Son of the house of David – a descendant of King Hezekiah, all the kings going back to David, Jesse, Judah, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah and Adam – would be born in a city with a name meaning “house of bread,” in a district (Ephrathah) with a name meaning “fruitful.” This, one day, would be the birthplace of the Messiah.
So this later Son of David would one day restore the earthly glory of Israel, correct? Think larger – and much, much older. For He was there at and even before the foundation of the world; in fact, He spoke, and the world and all that is in it came into being! Until His virgin Mother gave birth to Him, Israel would be dominated by other nations. But when He came to His people, then Israel would rule their land – isn’t that what God promised? Not exactly!
Look at what Micah says: After His birth, “then the rest of His brethren shall return to the people of Israel.” Who were the “rest” of His brothers and sisters? All the Jews living abroad in the Diaspora (the “dispersion”)? There was no physical rush to Palestine. But there was a rush of Gentiles into the new Church founded by Jesus, a Jew, and left in the hands of 12 Jewish apostles. Christ is the brother of all humanity! These are the brothers and sisters who returned to Israel! And together, all believers in Christ would live in peace within the new Israel, under the Good Shepherd. They would pasture on the Bread of Life – their Shepherd’s very body and blood!
Yes, the Messiah would come from little Bethlehem. And in His Kingdom, all descendants of Adam who believe in Him will find peace – for, as Micah said long ago, “He shall be peace.”
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
A reading from the letter to the Hebrews.
Brothers and sisters: When Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired,
but a body hast thou prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
thou hast taken no pleasure.
Then I said, `Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’
as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”
When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: This passage, and indeed the entire book of Hebrews, can be said to revolve around our Lord’s quotation of Psalm 40:6-8. In applying these words to Himself, Jesus did more than assert Himself as the Son of David. He also assumed His place – a place continually emphasized by the book’s priestly writer – as our great High Priest.
Even a thousand years before Christ’s birth, David had noted that the sacrifices that God prescribed in the Law of Moses were not really the point. The all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of all things has no true need for the sprinkled blood and roasted bodies of animals! But God established them not for His sake but for ours – as a precursor of the perfect Sacrifice that would be offered, according to God’s will, by God’s only Son. The perfect High Priest would offer Himself as the perfect, spotless Victim – and, because the sacrifices of old had to be consumed, He would give His people His body, blood, soul and divinity to eat and drink. By literally taking Him into our bodies in the Eucharist, we share in the ultimate Sacrifice anticipated by all the earlier temporary, imperfect sacrifices.
This is why He came into the world in David’s birth city and why He died in David’s royal city. This is why we come to the manger and rejoice!
Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: Gabriel, the heavenly messenger, has returned to heaven. The two holiest pregnancies in human history have commenced. And now Mary, the young virgin given the most astounding promise ever made, rushes south from Nazareth to near Jerusalem to see Elizabeth, the elderly priest’s wife who was learning how Sarah, the wife of Abraham, must have felt as she carried Isaac in her aged womb. Mary had consented to the holiest of missions, but Gabriel had offered her added evidence of the divine Source of that mission: Elizabeth is six months’ pregnant! She simply had to see.
And when she arrived, she was confronted with the first public witness by the Forerunner of her Son and Lord. Perhaps Mary saw Elizabeth suddenly move after feeling the leap of the unborn John the Baptist within her. But she certainly heard her cousin’s words, the words that Catholics over the centuries have repeated in the Hail Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” It is often said that Mary is the first and greatest disciple of Jesus. If she were not made a disciple by Gabriel’s words, then surely she became one here, converted by the Baptist’s silent but powerful leap of faith.
We have reached the end of Advent. Are our hearts prepared to welcome our Lord, to surrender our will to His, to love as unconditionally as He loves? Think on these things as the sun disappears tomorrow (Dec. 24, 2012) and the people of God come together and invite men and women all over the world to join them. Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem. There is no room in the inn. But let us make room in our hearts for the Babe, the Son of Mary.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be