December 18, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Advent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church observes the last Sunday in Advent. The first reading is from the Book of Micah.

Micah is regarded as one of the Minor Prophets. It is a relatively short book, containing only seven chapters. (By contrast, the Book of Isaiah has 66 chapters.)

Very few biographical facts about the author of Micah are known, but it is thought that the author was a contemporary of Isaiah, and that he came from a small village some 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

As was the case with so many prophets of ancient Israel, Micah saw his mission as calling the Chosen People away from sin and indifference to God and to piety and loyalty to their covenant with God. He lived in a time when piety was in short supply. Greed and exploitation flawed the economy. Religious practices were sparse and often insincere and poorly presented when they did occur.

In this weekend’s reading, Micah assures the people that the promised Savior will come. This Savior will lead the people away from sin and to God. To be precise, the Savior will come from Bethlehem.

Of course, for Micah, the reference is to David, who was from Bethlehem. David became the great king of Israel, venerated in Hebrew history. His royal role was not primarily political. It was religious. His task was to see that the nation upheld the covenant, that the people obeyed God.

The Savior will inherit this role. When the Savior comes, all will be well because the nation will obey God.

For its second reading, the Church gives us a lesson from the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Heavy with its Hebrew symbolism, this epistle eloquently extolls Jesus as Lord and as the Lamb of God.

In Hebrews, Jesus appears as the perfect victim and priest. His sacrifice on Calvary was sublime, perfect and utterly unique. It was final because its effects are eternal, providing for humanity’s reconciliation with God. The result will never cease, so no other sacrifices are necessary. All has been accomplished.

St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the story of the Visitation. Mary travels from her own home to a place in the hills of Judah. Traditionally, it has been thought that this place is the site now called Ein Karem. Once a few miles from Jerusalem, it has been absorbed by the sprawl of the city, and for all practical purposes is today a part of Jerusalem.

Mary travels to meet her cousin, Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah. Elizabeth herself is pregnant. Her unborn child will be John the Baptist. John had a special destiny. He would prepare the way for Christ.

Since Elizabeth was past the childbearing age for a woman, her conception was regarded as miraculous.

Elizabeth knows that Mary is expecting a child, and additionally she realizes that Mary’s child will be the Messiah.

Elizabeth’s unborn child understands all that is transpiring, and senses God’s presence in Mary’s unborn infant. Thus, even before birth, John testified that Jesus, also yet to be born, is the Messiah.

Reflection

It is the last Sunday of Advent. Christmas preparations are hectic. Everyone is in a hurry, and most are excited.

Less and less attention is given the spiritual preparation for Christmas, but the Church calls us to reality. Jesus is everything, the Church emphatically and joyfully reminds us.

In the writings of Micah, it reminds us that when we allow Jesus to come to us, all peace and happiness will abide with us. In Hebrews, it proclaims the everlasting loving mercy of God.

In the Gospel, the Church reinforces its belief in Jesus as Lord by recalling Mary’s visitation of her kinswoman Elizabeth. †

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