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Advent 4 (C)
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Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle C

1. Micah 5, 1-4

  • Well, Christmas is finally coming tomorrow!  Every homily I have heard in Advent has to do with Christmas, not with Christ.  But now Christmas will be on all our minds.  How then do we pay attention to this reading?
  • You, Bethlehem-Ephrata.  The prophet is one of the early prophets, and we know how his words influenced the Gospel of Matthew.  I hear the drama in this sentence (too small), and I repeat it.  It is meant to be ironic, and I will make it sound ironic by suggesting a question: too small?
  • The first verse we hear today will be repeated on Epiphany Day.  The English translation makes the meaning more obscure, especially if I do not rehearse it.  I will start softly, pausing as I go, and build to a climax:  From you – shall come forth for me – one who is to be ruler in Israel.   
  • Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.  All the words are short, laden with age and meaning, and I will give each one its weight.  In fact, what I say could apply to the entire passage, itself nearly three millennia old.
  • Therefore the Lord will give them upThey shall remain.  It sounds obscure at first hearing.  I know that these refer to the Exile and the Return, and the homilist may clarify this later.  If I read them as if they make sense to me, my listeners will find sense in them as well.  Micah is a true prophet because he calls the people to trust in God, because he sees the hand of God in the people’s terror and suffering, and because he dares to say it aloud. 
  • By the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name.  We began with a birth in a small town, David’s home town but still very small for all that.  We continue through the deliverance of a people, and end with God’s glory.  His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth.  I can lift the intensity of my voice in a similar way, from the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ to the God of all towns and cities who has special care for this people.
  • Central point: A leader is coming to deliver Israel, who shall stand firm and shepherd his flock. 
  • Message for our assembly: The glorious meaning behind these disheartening events is there if we only bother to look in hope. 
  • I will challenge myself: to fasten my eyes on the leader promised by God through the prophet, and center my reading on him.

 

2. Hebrews 10, 5-10

  • I have just heard how the prophet found a divine strategy at work in a small town.  We learn two further truths in this passage about the Christ. 
  • The author reminds us that Jesus did not forget where he came from, as we might say.  He quotes from Psalm 40, putting it in the mouth of Christ when Christ came into the world.  Behold, I come to do your will, O God.  Psalms are rhythmical and lyrical by nature, and I can suggest this as I read the verses.
  • He also suggests that God is like this, too.  Sacrifice and offering you did not desire.  In another prophetic psalm it says that God has no need to eat beef or drink the blood of bulls.  And God’s will, as Hosea has reminded us, has to do with “mercy and not sacrifices.”  I’m not writing about chief executives walking around in denim jackets, but about the most defenseless and strangers among us.
  • He takes away the first to establish the second.  We believe in Jesus Christ who is for us the embodiment of God.  ‘Establish’ is the key word here.  The author means that the life Jesus lived for others surpasses a life of fidelity to the law. 
  • Climax: I come to do your will. 
  • The message for our assembly: Do we really see God in the simplest people around us?  Or are we swayed by external shows of splendor?
  • I will challenge myself: To continue to remind myself that the greatness of Christ comes from his union with God, his responsiveness to God.

 

Gospel. Luke 1, 39-45

  • Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste.  Let me remember that she is pregnant during this time.  All through Advent we are not far from the theme of pregnancy and a birth about to take place.  The prophets speak of a new Israel rising out of defeat, and a new king about to appear.  Everything is recapitulated in this gestation period, this birth.  What can we learn about it?
  • She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting  No hushed voices or secret entrances here!  I will think of the photos of villages I have seen in the Middle East and Afghanistan, where people live close together and have to share so much with each other.
  • Blessed are you among women.  Many commentators heard in these lines the first announcement of the Good News, by which Mary became the earliest apostle.  Elizabeth did not need her cousin to come and help around the house.  The women have far more important work to do, as they witness to each other the achievements of God. 
  • How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  I should not worry about how Elizabeth would know this.  Gabriel could have come to her just as he came to her husband, right? 
  • Blessed are you who believed.  Elizabeth speaks as a prophet, and she repeats the evangelist’s own conclusion about Mary: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”  A popular hymn says of Mary “You were chosen,” and in this passage I hear the reason why she was chosen.
  • Climax: Blessed are you among women.  It is a joyous greeting, and I would do great damage to the church’s proclamation if I make it sound as trivial as a cell phone call.  Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice, a sign that many including ourselves are supposed to overhear her.
  • Message for our assembly: How warmly do we welcome this Gospel in our lives?
  • I will challenge myself: To make my listeners overhear a visit of relatives.  It might be a day like our Thanksgiving or Christmas.  What do we say when our dear ones come to visit us?  I doubt that we would use hushed tones.

 Toward the Eucharist: Our own faith has humble origins.  Jesus was born in obscurity and to some extent died in obscurity.  The gifts of bread and wine we offer and consume are simple, as the Shaker hymn suggests.  Joyful service becomes us more than power and prestige, in this season and all seasons.

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