DECEMBER 23rd 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2012
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
A. Dialogue: Christ in Prophecy
First Reading (Micah 5:1-4).
The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, from the mid- to the late- eighth century BC. He was unlike Isaiah, who came from the educated upper class of Jerusalem, in that he came from the country village Moresheth in the Judean foothills southwest of Jerusalem. Both prophets were at one in condemning the sinfulness of Jerusalem and the people of Judah and proclaiming the inevitable divine punishment. However, while Isaiah could not countenance the destruction of the holy city itself, Micah boldly proclaimed that Jerusalem would be ploughed as a field and become a heap of ruins (Micah 3:12). Micah well knew that after severe punishment and even exile God’s people had a future. They would always be God’s beloved chosen people. Micah’s oracles were treasured and in later ages were expanded to bring out this future. Sometimes it is not clear whether a given text if from Micah himself, or an expansion of his hope. In the future age Jerusalem would be a world centre spreading the message of peace (Micah 4:1-4). The Lord will reign in Mount Zion (Jerusalem). There is also a future for the house of David, with a Messiah, not from the great city Jerusalem, but, like David, from the town of Bethlehem among the insignificant clans of Judah. The origins of the Messiah from Bethlehem are from of old, they go back to the distant past, to David himself five centuries or so before this prophecy. Israel is depicted as a woman in labour awaiting redemption and the birth of the Messiah. She is the one to give birth to the Davidic king, whose reign will be a reign of peace.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 79). Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.
Second Reading (Hebrews 10:5-10).
The opening words of this passage, attributed to Christ on his coming into the world, are taken from Psalm 40 (Psalm 39 in the Greek and Vulgate texts). The original psalm begins with a thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble, followed by a prayer for help. After his thanksgiving the psalmist expresses his desire to do God’s will, more pleasing to God than the sacrifices of the Jewish law. As part of his statement regarding sacrifice and offering given as not desired by God, in the Hebrew text the psalmist makes a mysterious statement: “ears thou (O Lord) hast dug for me”, which the New Revised Standard Version renders as “thou hast given me an open ear”. The Greek translation, cited in the Epistle to the Hebrews passage read today, renders as “a body you have prepared for me”. What was originally meant for the psalmist by “the scroll of the book” in which a command was written is not quite clear. For the author of Hebrews “the scroll of the book” probably means the entire Old Testament, taken as a prophecy of Christ and his work. Obedience to the Father’s will, and the sacrifice it ultimately entailed, sums up Christ’s life. Christ’s first words on coming into our world, which we commemorate at Christmas, were: “I come to do your will”.
The Gospel (Luke 1:39-44).
This is Luke’s account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea. The distance between Nazareth and Jerusalem depends on the route taken, direct through Samaria or further east. The direct route is about 120 km, or 75 miles, taking about four days. Elizabeth’s residence would not be far from Jerusalem. However, Luke’s interest, and most of ours, rests elsewhere. The journey is evidence of Mary’s humanity, to congratulate and support Elizabeth, probably staying with her until the birth of her son John. Luke has other points to make. One is precursor John in the womb greeting the Saviour Jesus, likewise in the womb. Then there is Elizabeth’s loud proclamation of Mary’s dignity as mother of the redeemer, in Elizabeth’s words “mother of my Lord”, and likewise as the perfect believer, the model of the Christian believer. In this she was unlike Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, who doubted.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
Christ in Prophecy
We all know that the New Testament speaks of Christ as the fulfilment of prophecy, and even indicate texts of Scripture fulfilled in his life, death and resurrection, and in his gifts to the Church. St Luke tells us that after his resurrection Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; “’O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning from Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). One naturally asks in what sense such texts are fulfilled in Christ. This is an old question. Already in the fourth century some Scripture scholars were plainly saying that we should make distinctions in the subject.
The designation “Christ” can mean a number of realities. If taken in its strict sense as “Anointed One”, the Messiah son of David, then the quest would be the Messianic expectations of the Old Testament, or in Judaism. With this we must begin with David himself and his reign, about 1000 BC, to whom God solemnly promised that a son of his would always sit on his throne. The Davidic dynasty gave stability to the state of Judah, but came to an end with the destruction of the state, of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon in 586 BC. Expectation of the return of a son of David could only begin with this ending of the dynasty. With the restoration under Persian rule there was hope, and a chance, that this would happen, but it was not to be. From a religious, and in part political, point of view, most of the Davidic kings were a disappointment and there was no great desire for a restoration. For centuries there emerged what may be called a non-Davidic messianism, the expectation of a glorious future from God without mention of a Davidic king. Nonetheless, the divine promise to David and his house remained, and promises of a future Davidic king are to be found in the writings of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Expectation of a personal Messiah, Son of David, became explicit again the Roman conquest of Palestine in 63 BC. Down through the ages Israel was reflecting on earlier biblical texts and reinterpreting them in the light of a more developed thought. Thus the serpent of the Paradise account came to be regarded as Satan, and sin and death seen as introduced through him. Outside the texts relating to the Messiah son of David proper there were others that could now be seen as referring to the future Messiah, for instance the final victory of the seed of the woman (of Paradise) over the serpent, promises made concerning Judah by Jacob or of a star to arise out of Jacob by Balaam. There were others regarding patient sufferers, forsaken by friends, and a host of texts that could be used to foreshadow or portray the work of Jesus. The Old Testament was not a unity. It had diversity, with updated texts of earlier prophecies. But it could be regarded as a unity since, despite its diversity, the Holy Spirit was active in its composition. It was regarded as the word of God. While Jesus himself could point out that not everything within it held for the new age (“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times … I, however, say to you …”), in God’s plan it prepared for the coming of God’s final word in Jesus his Son. It therefore spoke of him when its texts were fulfilled in his person or his works. God’s plan at work in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Jesus give a unity to the whole Old Testament and the early Church.