Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B



Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

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 1:26-28

The first reading of this Sunday takes us back to the time of King David’s reign in his capital city Jerusalem. The approximate dates of David’s reign: 1,000-961 B.C. He consolidated a small empire extending from the wadi (dry riverbed) of Egypt to the Euphrates River, which is in Iraq today. As the reading begins, David is speaking with his house prophet or chaplain (similar to an IT man of our time). He notes that he is living in a palace of cedar while the Lord God is still living in a tent. This means that the ark of the covenant, a portable box shrine, was housed in the Tent of Meeting. The wings of the Cherubim on top of the ark were thought to be God’s throne. No temple had yet been built. David wants to build one. Not all of the story is included in our chopped up reading. But the problem for David was the fact that in establishing his empire he spilled much blood. So according to 1 Chronicles 22:8 the Lord forbade David to build him a temple because “you have shed so much blood on the earth in my presence.”

The Lord, however, makes David an offer he cannot refuse. Nathan tells David, “The Lord also reveals to you that he will (instead) build you a house.” This refers to the dynasty of kings descended from David, a dynasty that lasted until 587 B.C. Next in this reading we hear why it was selected for today’s liturgy. The promises God makes to David through Nathan are echoed in the annunciation to Mary in this Sunday’s gospel. Nathan speaks an oracle from the Lord. “I will raise up your heir (son) after you . . ., and I will make his royal throne secure forever. Your house (dynasty) and your kingdom shall endure forever before me.” Now here is the problem. David’s dynasty ended in 587 B.C. St. Paul is the first to respond to that problem in the New Testament. In Romans 1:3 Paul writes in reference to Jesus, “. . . his Son, descended from David according to the flesh . . . .” After Paul, all four gospels emphasize Jesus’ descent from King David, as does the 2nd Letter to Timothy 2:8, and Revelation 22:16. Thus. the New Testament teaches that the promise of a forever dynasty is realized in Jesus of Nazareth, Son (descendant) of David.

Psalm 89 continues the theme of the permanence of David’s kingdom according to the promises made to King David. The Psalmist responds with praise of those promises. “The promises of the Lord I will sing forever. My kindness is established forever. In heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness (to your promises).” Then comes the heart of the Response Psalm in direct reference to the first reading. “I have made a covenant with my chosen one. I have sworn to David my servant, ‘ Forever I confirm your posterity, and establish your throne for all generations.’” The Psalmist refers to the Lord as “my Father, my God, the Rock, my Savior.” God’s title ‘Rock’ occurs widely in the Old Testament, for example, Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, and in the New Testament, I Corinthians 10:4. More interesting is the fact that God shares this title with

Abraham in Isaiah 51:1 and with Simon Peter in Matthew 16:18.

The second reading is an excerpt of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The assemblers of our readings could have made a more obvious choice, Romans 1:1-3, to correspond to the first reading and to the gospel, but we must deal with what they have given us. Paul writes about a revelation of a mystery which was kept secret for ages, but is now made known to all nations according to his proclamation of or about Jesus Christ. He ends with a brief doxology (word of praise). “To the only wise God through Jesus Christ be glory forever. Amen.” The mystery is the Incarnation.

The gospel is Luke’s composition of the story of the annunciation to Mary by the Angel Gabriel.

The setting is the little town of Nazareth, Galilee. Gabriel was no stranger to the interpretation of God’s plan for salvation. Twice he functioned as interpreter or revealer in the Book of Daniel. There is even a similarity in the greeting of Gabriel. The angel greets Mary as “highly favored one,” (full of grace), and greets Daniel as “a man greatly loved.” Mary’s reaction is superior to that of Daniel. He reacts by falling senselessly to the ground, Daniel 9:18. Mary’s reaction: “She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be,” Luke 1:29. To Daniel, the angel announces the coming of “an anointed prince.” To Mary, the angel announces the coming of a king who is “Son of the Most High.” Here we can see how Luke has woven a tapestry combining the Old and New Testaments. Luke’s annunciation composition is clearly dependent on the words of the oracle of Nathan to David in our first reading. “The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

There was a previous annunciation in Luke 1:18-23 to Zechariah. That, too, was a mission of Gabriel. Zechariah is also troubled by the angel’s message. He asks, “How shall I know this, for I am an old man, and my wife is beyond the years of child-bearing?” The angel is not pleased and removes the old man’s hearing and ability to speak. Mary asks a similar question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” She gets a detailed explanation. Was God playing favorites? The answer may be in Gabriel’s response to Zechariah, “. . . because you did not believe my words.” Mary did believe, as we are told in Luke 1:45. Zechariah went home to his wife and Elizabeth became pregnant. Mary gave her consent to God’s plan, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word,” and also became pregnant. God asked the consent of a woman to bring about the incarnation of his Son. Through Mary’s faith shown by her consent she also became her Son’s first disciple. Jesus tells us so in Luke 11:27-28.

He was preaching to a crowd. A woman shouts, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts that nursed you.” Jesus replies, “More blessed are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Mary did exactly that.