Sunday Scripture Readings

Fourth Sunday of Advent,

December 22

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Psalm 89;

Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

OUR GOOD NEWS: Now at last, God responds to our cry for help. Luke composed his Gospel in the manner of other biblical authors but unlike modern historians and biographers. Both groups are concerned with something that happened: Jesus really lived, no less than Julius Caesar or Virgil. But instead of the modern approach of reconstructing events through historically verifiable details, inspired biblical authors preferred to tell stories conveying an underlying meaning. We treasure our Gospels because they hand on precious divine revelation about Jesus - who He is and what He means for us - rather than collected facts. New Testament authors wrote for audiences steeped in the Old Testament, people capable of recognizing subtle allusions to whole scenes as well as to words and phrases. Because Jesus fulfilled God's promises to Israel, the Evangelists carefully searched out applicable Old Testament passages when telling their stories about Jesus' conception, birth and public life. For example, a pattern occurs in the Bible for theophanies (divine appearances) announcing the birth of someone destined to save God's people. Thus, the Lord himself appeared to Abraham and Sarah, promising a long-awaited child - Isaac - without whom a Chosen People, their descendants, was impossible. Moreover, angelic or human messengers predicted births of saviors like Samson and Samuel to their mothers. And earlier in Luke 1, Zechariah received news through a heavenly visitor of a son, John the Baptist. Features from Old Testament stories recur in today's reading announcing a Messiah who would finally and definitively save Israel. Equally obvious are differences. Mary was not, like the mothers of Sarah and Samson, a barren woman. Neither overage nor sterile like them, she hadn't prayed or longed for a son. Jesus' virginal birth is no put-down of marriage or devaluing of sexual intimacy but an affirmation of His unique relationship with God who through Him takes charge where mere humans failed to save us. The miraculous birth explains later greatness, for Jesus was what He was because He was divinely begotten. Mary's Son thus represented a unique, exclusively divine intrusion into our morally bankrupt world incapable of saving itself. This new creation broke with the inevitable pattern of high hopes tragically followed by disappointment and sinful failure. The announcement to Mary in today's Gospel thus focuses our attention upon Jesus, who comes as David's successor and God's Son. As Advent draws to a close, with the whole Church we join Mary in eager yet patient expectation, awaiting the full and final coming of Him whose "kingdom will be without end."

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