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Fourth Sunday In Advent, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger


Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Micah is the last of the four 8th century B.C. prophets in this order, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah.

His ministry is in and to the Kingdom of Judah and its capital city Jerusalem. He comes upon the scene around 701 B.C. His concerns are sin and its punishment. The superpower Assyria looms over the politics of the Middle East. Danger was not only external. It was also internal. Prophets, priests, judges accepted bribes. Merchants cheated. The pagan cults of Canaan were practiced alongside the worship of the Lord God of the Israelites. The royals robbed the poor and the humble, especially women and children. Priests and prophets spoke only soothing words that pleased their audiences. What was once thought evil now was regarded as good, and what was once known as good was not regarded as evil.  The “Age of Relativism” warned against by Pope Benedict XVI in our time was thriving at the end of the eighth century B.C.

Even though Micah is known as a prophet of doom, his oracles are not entirely concerned with doom. In the first reading of this Sunday he expresses hope for a new king descended from King David. This new king would come from Bethlehem, the town of David’s origin. Micah was active during the reign of King Hezekiah, one of the better kings descended from David. He attempted reforms but political and foreign pressure (from the superpower Assyria) was too strong to render them successful. Therefore Micah’s hope for a new king, who “will stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord. His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth. He shall be peace.” One may see Micah’s oracle fulfilled in Hezekiah’s great grandson, King Josiah, 640-609 B.C., but Josiah’s death brought an end to reform.

The Christian movement gave new life to Micah’s oracle. Christian interpretation of Micah’s oracle is seen in Matthew 2:5-6, enclosed in the story of the Magi. The sages of Jerusalem inform King Herod that the new king was indeed born in Bethlehem. To describe the greatness of Bethlehem as the birthplace of King Jesus, Matthew changes Micah’s oracle. Micah spoke of Bethlehem as “the least among the clans of Judah.” Matthew’s response to Micah, “And you, Bethlehem, are by no means the least . . . , for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”The Responsorial Psalm, 80, latches on to the shepherd theme, “O shepherd of Israel, listen, from your throne upon the cherubim.” The Psalm also recalls Micah’s theme of a new shepherd, a “son of man whom you yourself made strong.” In the People’s Response the liturgy recognizes that the Lord’s help is essential for our personal reform, as we pray, “Lord, make us turn to you . . . , and we shall be saved.” The setting is no longer the time of Micah and the Psalmist, but now, in our liturgy, the time is on this Sunday.

The second reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews. The selection of this reading rests on its opening words, “When Christ came into the world . . . .” The author proclaims the union bet-ween the divine and human in Jesus as greater than any Old Testament sacrifices, as we read, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.” It was in that human nature, seen through that human body, that the human will of the Son of God made man offered a sacrifice greater than all the sacrifices of old, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.” The author adds, “By this will we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” Can we hope to probe the depth of that statement — that through Jesus’ act of will all humanity, sharing the same human nature as Jesus shares, has been made holy?

The gospel reading is Luke’s story of Mary’s visit to her elderly, pregnant relative Elizabeth. The story follows immediately after the annunciation to Mary. Elizabeth’s pregnancy is the sign given to Mary as proof of the truth of the angel’s message. What is Luke’s catechesis? When Mary consented to become the mother of God’s Son, she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Those who carry the Spirit of God convey that Spirit to others. Therefore Luke writes, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, she was filled with the Holy Spirit.” At the same time, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. This leap is not one of those natural movements of an unborn child in the womb. What is Luke’s intention? The baby, too, was filled with the Holy Spirit, as Luke pointed out in Zechariah’s hymn, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.” The leap of the child in his mother’s womb is the Spirit-inspired witness of John the Baptizer to the Mighty One who would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

The presence of the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth turns Elizabeth into a prophetess, a revealer of the truths of God’s salvation. The Spirit speaks through Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Both utterances have Old Testament background. “Blessed are you among women” recalls the blessings spoken over Jael and Judith, two heroic women who saved their people from destruction. See Judges 5:24 and Judith 13:18. “Blessed is the fruit of your womb” proclaims Mary as representative of all Israel, as we read in Deuteronomy 28:4 in the beatitudes God pronounces upon all Israelites, “Blessed is the fruit of your body.” As Elizabeth professes her unworthiness in the presence of the mother and the divine child, she says, “How is it the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth’s son would later say of the divine child, “I am unworthy to untie his sandal strings.” It has been said that Mary was first definitively proclaimed as “Mother of God” at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

Not so! Luke does this four centuries earlier, when through Elizabeth he teaches that Mary is the “Mother of my Lord,” that is, of God. The Holy Spirit reveals through Elizabeth that the faith of Mary in giving her consent to the angel is greater than her biological motherhood of God’s Son.

Jesus does the same in Luke 11:27-28.