Stephen J. Baker
Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Hebrews 10: 5-10
Luke 1: 39-45
Today’s gospel reading on this fourth Sunday of the Advent season recounts so much more than a visit between two cousins. For the hearers of the gospel in Luke’s community, this passage points to the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited promise of salvation. How so? Well, we have to begin by looking at our first reading from the prophet Micah and our own knowledge of salvation history.
When David was king of a united Israel, the prophet Nathan communicated God’s plan to fulfill his promise of salvation through the coming of a Ruler in Israel through David’s own house. This ruler will come forth from Bethlehem of Judah, just as David did. This descendent of David’s house would shepherd his flock and lead Israel in its role to be God’s light to all the nations. This Davidic Ruler would be called the Prince of Peace.
Through the centuries since the reign of David, the people of Israel were waiting for this Messiah, this anointed One, this Prince of Peace to come into the world and take his place as Shepherd and Ruler of God’s plan of salvation. For the Christian community, Jesus of Nazareth, born in the town of Bethlehem, is the fulfillment of God’s promise made to David.
Now let us return to the gospel story. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth affirms the early Church’s belief that Mary’s child, Jesus, is the Holy One of God. The community of Luke, upon hearing the story of this encounter between Mary and Elizabeth in a town of Judah, would immediately bring to mind Nathan’s prophecy to David. When Elizabeth greets Mary, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cries out in an acclamation of faith: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth acknowledges Mary’s fiat and the child in her womb as the Messiah and Lord. Even the child John in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting. The child John dances before Mary, just as King David danced before the Ark of the Covenant, as Mary is the New Ark who carries within her the One who is the fulfillment of the Law.
How do these readings speak to us as followers of Jesus? We affirm and proclaim in unity of the faith and belief with the Early Church that Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy One of God, the Prince of Peace. As Christmas day draws near, we continue in these final Advent days to prepare our hearts for the celebration of God’s Promise – Jesus, born in Bethlehem in Judah.
We experience the Prince of Peace in this Eucharist who comes to us once again to feed us and strengthen us so that we might be prophets of God’s saving promise to our wounded world.