Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

By Benedictine Father Paul Nord


First Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Response: Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27; Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

Our first reading from 2nd Samuel contains God’s covenant promises to David. Psalm 89 – our Responsorial – is a later text that recalls God’s promises to David (from 2 Sam 7). In this way, Psalm 89 reminds a new generation that God remains faithful to his promises. The Psalm says: “The promises of the LORD I will sing forever; through all generations.” The Psalm continues with two synonymous parallel phrases: “I have made a covenant….” and “I have sworn.…” This repetition creates emphasis. The covenant is with David – “my chosen one.” Psalm 89 then reminds us of God’s specific promises. This Psalm’s key repeated word is forever. God’s promises and covenant with David remain forever. In response to God’s promises, we sing “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

The Psalms are prayers that remind us of God’s promises, and remind us of God’s mighty deeds for our salvation. Psalm 89 fits perfectly with 2nd Samuel because Psalm 89 is an example of biblical re-reading. This is repeatedly reading the biblical text so that we may recognize how God’s word speaks to our present circumstance. Like Psalm 89 – so also today – we re-read God’s promises to David in 2nd Samuel. This reminds us of how God fulfilled these promises by sending Jesus, our redeemer. Jesus, the Messiah, is a descendant of David. Jesus fulfills God’s promise to David that “your kingdom shall endure forever.” Jesus brings the eternal kingdom of God – which far surpasses David’s earthly kingdom. In Advent, we recall Jesus Christ’s announcement that the kingdom of God has arrived – because Jesus, our king, has arrived. Also in Advent, we anticipate the fullness of the kingdom of God when Christ comes again. Both 2nd Samuel and Psalm 89 remind us of God’s promises to David – now fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

Our second reading includes the final verses of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul describes “my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” Paul is expressing the hope that God will strengthen the Christians in Rome through Paul’s letter, which witnesses to Jesus. The Gospel of Christ Jesus has been “made known to all nations.” This was the life work of Paul – to make the Gospel known to the Gentiles – “all nations.” Paul works so that the Gentiles may accept the Gospel with “the obedience of faith” (Rom 16:26). This echoes Romans 1:5, in which Paul says that his purpose, as an apostle, is “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.”

The gospel, from Luke, describes the “Annunciation” – in which the angel Gabriel is sent to Mary. Many gifted artists throughout the centuries have depicted this encounter. An internet search will produce much artwork to help us meditate on this beautiful passage. The gospel reading begins with important context. God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth of Galilee – a surprising place for an angelic appearance – far from Jerusalem. Mary’s name is not given at first. She is introduced as “a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph.” The text assumes that both Joseph and Mary are previously unfamiliar to the reader. But Joseph belongs to “the house of David” – clearly an important detail. God is working through people who seem unimportant, but they are part of God’s plan, promised to David.

We can divide the “Annunciation” encounter into five moments. First is the angel Gabriel’s greeting – "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." The angel’s words indicate that Mary has received God’s favor in a remarkable way. 

The second moment is Mary’s reaction – “she was greatly troubled.” Between the angel’s sudden appearance, and his remarkable words, Mary’s initial reaction is fear. But the angel Gabriel reassures her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” The angel helps Mary move from fear toward trust of God’s favor and purpose.

The third gospel moment is most important – the angel’s message: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus…” This is the purpose of Gabriel’s appearance to Mary – to announce to her that she is to be the mother of a son, Jesus, who is to be called “Son of the Most High” (God is “the Most High”). The angel continues: “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.” The last king descended from David was removed from power in Jerusalem in 587 B.C. But God promised David his kingdom would last forever. Thus, the Jewish people awaited the restoration of David’s kingdom. Jesus fulfills God’s promise. About Jesus, Gabriel says, “of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Fourth, Mary questions how conceiving a son is possible since she is a virgin. The Holy Spirit will accomplish this by God’s power, Gabriel explains. The child is then called “the Son of God” – similar to when the angel earlier called him “Son of the Most High.” The angel points to Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy as an example of God’s power – and thus a reason for Mary to trust the angel’s message. Today’s reading (1:26-38) is preceded by the section of Luke’s Gospel (1:5-25) in which the miraculous birth of John the Baptist is promised by the angel Gabriel to his elderly father, Zechariah. By presenting these two birth announcements back-to-back in his gospel, Luke is inviting us to contrast the roles of John the Baptist and Jesus in God’s plan of salvation. God brings forth new life – first from an elderly couple and then from a virgin. We marvel at God’s life-giving power. As the angel says, “nothing will be impossible for God.”

Fifth and finally, Mary consents to God’s plan. By calling herself “the handmaid of the Lord,” Mary clearly indicates her willingness to cooperate with God’s plan of salvation – as announced by the angel Gabriel.

Benedictine Father Paul Nord is a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, and teaches at Saint Meinrad Seminary. His Sunday Scripture columns are © Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.