Reading I: Micah 5:1-4a
As with Zephaniah last week, this is the only use of Micah
in the Sunday Lectionary, so we will again provide some introductory
information. Micah prophesied in the southern kingdom of
at the end of the eighth century, during the reigns of Ahaz
Although he lived through a series of intense
international crises, including the destruction of the northern
kingdom of Israel and the invasion of Judah by the Assyrians,
Micah took little note of these events (contrast Isaiah of
but concentrated rather on the denunciation of Judah for its
social injustices (cf. Amos).
Micah’s work, like Zephaniah’s,
was later edited, and more positive promises were added.
oracle about the birth of the messianic king at Ephrathah (“Bethlehem” is
thought to be an explanatory gloss) is probably one such addition.
The situation when Micah wrote seems to be that which prevailed at the end of
the Exile, when hopes ran high for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy. Christian
faith has, since Matt 2:6, seen the final fulfillment of this oracle in the birth
Responsorial Psalm: 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
arrangement of Psalm 80 was used on the first Sunday of Advent
B. Note particularly the last two lines of the first stanza:
“Stir up thy might, and come to save us]” It is hard
to imagine a more appropriate Advent prayer. Its words are
echoed in the ancient Advent collects that begin with “Excita.”
The third stanza is a prayer for God’s blessing on the Davidic king. Coupled
with the first reading, this may be appropriately referred to Jesus Christ. Thus,
we put ourselves in the position of ancient Israel waiting for the coming of
the Messiah as we wait for the celebration of his coming at Christmas.
This reading (beginning
at verse 4) is also used on the feast of the Annunciation
(March 25), a day with which this Sunday has much in common.
It is one of the most important passages in Hebrews, for
it defines Christ’s sacrifice as the offering of his body
(that is, the instrument of his will) in obedience to his
This, says the author of Hebrews, building upon Psalm
40, is the whole raison d’être of the incarnation.
Christ took a body so as to have an instrument by which to
offer this perfect obedience to the will of God.
of this reading today is a salutary reminder, needed particularly
at this time of year, not to dissociate the incarnation from
its supreme goal, the atonement. Bethlehem was the prelude
Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
Since there are only two annunciation stories in the Gospels
(see the fourth Sunday of Advent in series A and B), series
C switches to the visitation. Today’s reading in the Episcopalian
Lectionary runs through verse 49, thus including the first
verses of the Magnificat, which has traditional associations
with the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Three times in this pericope Mary is pronounced “blessed” (see also
the second verse of the Magnificat; this is the scriptural ground for
our calling her the “Blessed Virgin”).
Two closely connected reasons
are given for Elizabeth’s calling her “blessed”: Mary’s faith (v. 45),
which is the same as her obedience (Luke 1:38, the alleluia versicle), and her
bearing of the Christ child (v. 42).
So Mary is blessed, not for what she was
or is in herself, but only in relation to the incarnation. The Mariology of Scripture
is grounded in Christology.
In order to follow the evangelist’s understanding of the annunciation, the conception
of the Christ child, and the dialogue between Mary and Elizabeth at the visitation,
we should avoid prematurely harmonizing Luke’s presentation with the Johannine
Luke does not operate with a preexistent Logos-Christology as the fourth
evangelist does, any more than the fourth evangelist operates with a conception
and birth narrative.
For Luke, the virginal conception is not the way in which
the preexistent divine Son assumes humanity, for he does not think in those terms;
rather, the miraculous conception is the supreme example of those Old Testament
conceptions in which God raises up a person to perform a specific function in
salvation history (Isaac, Moses , Samson, Samuel).
Thus, Mary’s miraculous
conception of Jesus marks the birth of one who is to perform the eschatologically
unique role in salvation history (Luke 1:32-33; note the future tenses, which
speak of this child’s future role, not of his “divine nature”).
Lukeand the same is doubtless true of Matthew—the infancy narrative
is strictly Vorgeschichte, a historical prelude to a unique salvation
history that begins with the baptism of Jesus and continues through his exaltation
(see the qualifications for apostolic witness in Acts 1:22).
We shall discuss how this exegetical interpretation of Luke is to be squared
with the Church’s later ontological interpretation of the incarnation and shall
propose a contemporary interpretation of it in our comments on the Johannine
prologue at the third Mass of Christmas.
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 1984
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by
permission from The Liturgical Press,
Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller. The Liturgical Press.
1984 (Revised Edition), pp.
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