4th Sunday of Advent, Year C
DR. BRANT PITRE
Mass Readings Explained
First, obviously the prophecy is focused on geography. I talked about this before, geography matters. Where is Bethlehem? Well Bethlehem is in the south. It’s in the southern territory, the southern part of the holy land, which was referred to as Judah, right. So this particular town, Bethlehem, was famous not for its size, it was a small place, but for its associations with King David. So Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, it was the place of his family. And 1 Samuel 17 tells you that David lived in Bethlehem along with his father Jesse and the sons of Jesse there. So in a prophetic context when Micah brings up the city of Bethlehem, as soon as you say Bethlehem a First Century Jew would think David, the city of David, the King of David.
SOURCE: Mass Readings Explained by Dr. Brant Pitre.
Dr. Kieran J. O’Mahony, OSA
Navarre Bible, et alia
SOURCE: Bible study program at St. Charles Borromeo (Picayune, MS) courtesy of Military Archdiocese. Sources include The Jerome Biblical Commentary, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, and The Navarre Bible, and others.
The Sunday Website
DENNNIS HAMM, SJ
A literal rendering of the Hebrew of Psalm 40:7 would be, “but ears you have dug for me.” That is such a blunt image that most translations paraphrase.
JOHN FOLEY, SJ
I used to be resentful as the daylight hours became shorter and shorter.
DR. ELEANOR STUMP
Who was this Elizabeth? An ordinary Jewish woman of her time, distinguished by her barrenness and not much more.
RICHARD Niell Donavan
The Readings in Context
Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.
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AGAPE BIBLE STUDY
Recognizing the Davidic Messiah
In the First Reading, we learn that one of those prophets was the 6th BC-century prophet, Micah. He reveals that the Messiah is more than a mortal man; He will be a ruler whose origin is “from ancient times.” The faithful must look for His mother to give birth in Bethlehem, the city of the great King David with whom God made an eternal covenant and promised an heir from David’s lineage would rule forever. Micah also prophesies that the Davidic Messiah’s rule will be universal, reaching “to the ends of the earth.”
Our Responsorial Psalm is from a communal lament of the covenant people when they were threatened with destruction and exile by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. They made their petition for God’s intervention to save them despite their failures, directing their plea to Yahweh’s Divine Presence enthroned above the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant. They petitioned God to send a “strong man,” a “son of man,” referring to a spiritually strong human man chosen by God and upon whom His favor rests, to save them from destruction. God sent such a man to save His covenant people at the great turning point in salvation history. “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself. He came to save not only the “lost sheep” of Israel but to redeem all humanity. He is the Davidic prince and good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep (Ez 34:23; Jn 10:12-14), and Nations and peoples of every language serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:14).
Today’s Second Reading tells us that Jesus is that promised Davidic heir. He is both the son of David (Mt 1:1; Lk 1:31-33) and the Son of God destined to reign as an eternal King (2 Sam 7:16; Lk 1:32, 35; Rev 19:16). Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Heb 1:5; 5:5; 11:17; 1 Jn 4:9), and the New Covenant High Priest. Unlike the high priests of the Sinai Covenant, selected because of their hereditary link to Aaron the first high priest, Jesus was God’s choice like the ancient priest-king Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20; Ps 110:4), who blessed Abraham and offered him bread and wine, foreshadowing the Eucharist.
In the Gospel Reading, two mothers take center stage in Salvation History: Mary of Nazareth and her kinswoman Elizabeth, wife of the chief priest Zechariah and mother of St. John the Baptist. Mothers are the first to set a child on the path of life, and their influence can profoundly impact a child’s future. For this reason, the books of Kings and Chronicles name the mothers of the Davidic kings who bore the heirs of the Davidic covenant. St. Matthew identifies Jesus’s mother as the virgin from Isaiah’s prophecy (Mt 1:23 and Is 7:14) who gives birth to a son in the city of David that is the Bethlehem of Micah’s prophecy in our First Reading.
Jesus’s mother, the Virgin Mary of Nazareth, is a descendant of King David (Lk 1:32); she is the first person to know His true identity, and she is His first disciple. In our Gospel Reading, when Mary visits her kinswoman Elizabeth the baby in her womb, St. John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit, leaped for joy to be in the presence of the Redeemer-Messiah in Mary’s womb. And Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared that Mary is “the mother of my Lord” (referring to God) who has honored her with His presence (Lk 1:40-45).
Do you also recognize Jesus’s true identity? Is He your Lord and your God who came to save you from your sins and set you on the path to eternal life? If so, rejoice as St. John the Baptist and his mother rejoiced because your understanding of Jesus’s true identity as the Son of God and your personal Savior is a gift from the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit-inspired recognition is necessary to set you on the path to Heaven.
Excerpts from Michal E. Hunt’s Agape Bible Study. Material slightly reformatted. Used with permission.
MEDITATION: Why did thousands come out to hear John the Baptist? And what was so unusual about his message? Luke says that John “preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:17). John’s message of repentance was very practical…
FATHER EAMON TOBIN
FOCUS STATEMENT: Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (“Let us rejoice!”) Sunday, we are rejoicing because our salvation is near at hand. A spirit of joy pervades the first and second readings as well as the psalm. In the Gospel, John responds very concretely to people who ask him: “What must we do?”
FATHER CLEMENT THIBODEAU
Micah 5:14 A new “King David” will come from Bethlehem.
Hebrews 10:5-10 Christ came as one of us to make us one with God.
Luke 1:39-45 Mary hears God’s will for her and accepts it.
Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19 Shepherd of Israel, come to shepherd your people.
“Lectio divina,” a Latin term, means “divine reading” and describes a way of reading the Scriptures whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us. In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk called Guigo, described the stages which he saw as essential to the practice of Lectio divina. There are various ways of practicing Lectio divina either individually or in groups but Guigo’s description remains fundamental. READ MORE
Bishop David G. O’Connell
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
St Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea is a unique work of scriptural commentary which nites the teachings of both early Latin and Eastern Church Father. It affords the reader a look into the deep meaning of the Gospels as understood throughout early Church history.
39. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
40. And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44. For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
AMBROSE. The Angel, when he announced the hidden mysteries to the Virgin, that he might build up her faith by an example, related to her the conception of a barren woman. When Mary heard it, it was not that she disbelieved the oracle, or was uncertain about the messenger, or doubtful of the example, but rejoicing in the fulfilment of her wish, and consicentious in the observance of her duty, she gladly went forth into the hill country. For what could Mary now, filled with God, (plena Deo) but ascend into the higher parts with haste!
ORIGEN. For Jesus who was in her womb hastened to sanctify John, still in the womb of his mother. Whence it follows, with haste.
AMBROSE. The grace of the Holy Spirit knows not of slow workings. Learn, ye virgins, not to loiter in the streets, nor mix in public talk.
THEOPHYLACT. She went into the mountains, because Zacharias dwelt there. As it follows, To a city of Juda, and entered into the house of Zacharias. Learn, O holy women, the attention which ye ought to shew for your kinswomen with child. For Mary, who before dwelt alone in the secret of her chamber, neither virgin modesty caused to shrink from the public gaze, nor the rugged mountains from pursuing her purpose, nor the tediousness of the journey from performing her duty. Learn also, O virgins, the lowliness of Mary. She came a kinswoman to her next of kin, the younger to the elder, nor did she merely come to her, but was the first to give her salutations; as it follows, And she saluted Elisabeth. For the more chaste a virgin is, the more humble she should be, and ready to give way to her elders. Let her then be the mistress of humility, in whom is the profession of chastity. Mary is also a cause of piety, in that the higher went to the lower, that the lower might be assisted, Mary to Elisabeth, Christ to John.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. iv. in Matt.) Or else the Virgin kept to herself all those things which have been said, not revealing them to any one, for she did not believe that any credit would be given to her wonderful story; nay, she rather thought she would suffer reproach if she told it, as if wishing to screen her own guilt.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) But to Elisabeth alone she has recourse, as she was wont to do from their relationship, and other close bonds of union.
AMBROSE. But soon the blessed fruits of Mary’s coming and our Lord’s presence are made evident. For it follows, And it came to pass, that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb. Mark the distinction and propriety of each word. Elisabeth first heard the word, but John first experienced the grace. She heard by the order of nature, he leaped by reason of the mystery. She perceived the coming of Mary, he the coming of the Lord.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) For the Prophet sees and hears more acutely than his mother, and salutes the chief of Prophets; but as he could not do this in words, he leaps in the womb, which was the greatest token of his joy. Who ever heard of leaping at a time previous to birth? Grace introduced things to which nature was a stranger. Shut up in the womb, the soldier acknowledged his Lord and King soon to be born, the womb’s covering being no obstacle to the mystical sight.
ORIGEN. (vid. etiam Tit. Bos.) He was not filled with the Spirit, until she stood near him who bore Christ in her womb. Then indeed he was both filled with the Spirit, and leaping imparted the grace to his mother; as it follows, And Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. But we cannot doubt that she who was then filled with the Holy Spirit, was filled because of her son.
AMBROSE. She who had hid herself because she conceived a son, began to glory that she carried in her womb a prophet, and she who had before blushed, now gives her blessing; as it follows, And she spake out with a loud voice, Blessed art thou among women. With a loud voice she exclaimed when she perceived the Lord’s coming, for she believed it to be a holy birth. But she says, Blessed art thou among women. For none was ever partaker of such grace or could be, since of the one Divine seed, there is one only parent.
BEDE. Mary is blessed by Elisabeth with the same words as before by Gabriel, to shew that she was to be reverenced both by men and angels.
THEOPHYLACT. But because there have been other holy women who yet have borne sons stained with sin, she adds, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Or another interpretation is, having said, Blessed art thou among women, she then, as if some one enquired the cause, answers, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb: as it is said, Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord. The Lord God, and he hath shewed us light; (Ps. 118:26, 27.) for the Holy Scriptures often use and, instead of because.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. Now she rightly calls the Lord the fruit of the virgin’s womb, because He proceeded not from man, but from Mary alone. For they who are sown by their fathers are the fruits of their fathers.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) This fruit alone then is blessed, because it is produced without man, and without sin.
BEDE. This is the fruit which is promised to David, Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne. (Ps. 132:11.)
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Severus.) From this place we derive the refutation of Eutyches, in that Christ is stated to be the fruit of the womb. For all fruit is of the same nature with the tree that bears it. It remains then that the virgin was also of the same nature with the second Adam, who takes away the sins of the world. But let those also who invent curious fictions concerning the flesh of Christ, blush when they hear of the real child-bearing of the mother of God. For the fruit itself proceeds from the very substance of the tree. Where too are those who say that Christ passed through the virgin as water through an aqueduct? Let these consider the words of Elisabeth who was filled with the Spirit, that Christ was the fruit of the womb. It follows, And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
AMBROSE. She says it not ignorantly, for she knew it was by the grace and operation of the Holy Spirit that the mother of the prophet should be saluted by the mother of his Lord, to the advancement and growth of her own pledge; but being aware that this was of no human deserving, but a gift of Divine grace, she therefore says, Whence is this to me, that is, By what right of mine, by what that I have done, for what good deeds?
ORIGEN. (non occ. vide Theoph. et. Tit. Bost.) Now in saying this, she coincides with her son. For John also felt that he was unworthy of our Lord’s coming to him. But she gives the name of “the mother of our Lord” to one still a virgin, thus forestalling the event by the words of prophecy. Divine foreknowledge brought Mary to Elisabeth, that the testimony of John might reach the Lord. For from that time Christ ordained John to be a prophet. Hence it follows, For, to, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded, &c.
AUGUSTINE. (Epist. ad Dardanum 57.) But in order to say this, as the Evangelist has premised, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, by whose revelation undoubtedly she knew what that leaping of the child meant; lamely, that the mother of Him had come unto her, whose forerunner and herald that child was to be. Such then night be the meaning of so great an event; to be known indeed by grown up persons, but not understood by a little child; for she said not, “The babe leaped in faith in my womb,” but leaped for joy. Now we see not only children leaping for joy, but even the cattle; not surely from any faith or religious feeling, or any rational knowledge. But this joy was strange and unwonted, for it was in the womb; and at the coming of her who was to bring forth the Saviour of the world. This joy, therefore, and as it were reciprocal salutation to the mother of the Lord, was caused (as miracles are) by Divine influences in the child, not in any human way by him. For even supposing the exercise of reason and the will had been so far advanced in that child, as that he should be able in the bowels of his mother to know, believe, and assent; yet surely that must be placed among the miracles of Divine power, not referred to human examples.
THEOPHYLACT. The mother of our Lord had come to see Elisabeth, as also the miraculous conception, from which the Angel had told her should result the belief of a far greater conception, to happen to herself; and to this belief the words of Elisabeth refer, And blessed art thou who hast believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told thee from the Lord.
AMBROSE. You see that Mary doubted not but believed, and therefore the fruit of faith followed.
BEDE. Nor is it to be wondered at, that our Lord, about to redeem the world, commenced His mighty works with His mother, that she, through whom the salvation of all men was prepared, should herself be the first to reap the fruit of salvation from her pledge.
AMBROSE. But happy are ye also who have heard and believed, for whatever soul hath believed, both conceives and brings forth the word of God, and knows His works.
BEDE. But every soul which has conceived the word of God in the heart, straightway climbs the lofty summits of the virtues by the stairs of love, so as to be able to enter into the city of Juda, (into the citadel of prayer and praise, and abide as it were for three months in it,) to the perfection of faith, hope, and charity.
GREGORY. (super Ezech. lib. i. Hom. i. 8.) She was touched with the spirit of prophecy at once, both as to the past, present, and future. She knew that Mary had believed the promises of the Angel; she perceived when she gave her the name of mother, that Many was carrying in her womb the Redeemer of mankind; and when she foretold that all things would be accomplished, she saw also what was to follow in the future.