Sunday, December 24, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Jesus the Messiah & Mary Our Link To Him

What is Advent?
We are now in the holy season of Advent where we prepare for both the coming of Christ at Christmas and the second coming at the end of time.  It is a spiritual period in which to meditate on these two mysteries and prepare for them.  We use the wreath and 4 candles to mark down the 4 weeks before Christmas.  

Three of the candles are purple and one is pink.  The purple symbolizes preparation through penance and prayer.  Purple is also used during Lent.  Another way to see it is that purple is a physical sign of healing. When we get hurt, the injury becomes purple.  During the time of healing, it remains purple until it clears up.  Sin hurts us and we need time to heal from it by using the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist, Prayer, Fasting, Indulgences and a genuine Spiritual life.  

The pink is for the third Sunday or Gaudete Sunday which means "Sunday of Joy."   We are joyous because we are getting closer to Christ's birth.  As each week goes, we light the candle that corresponds to that week.  

Today's readings:

Here we are in the fourth and last week of Advent with also falls on Christmas Eve date-wise. Jesus is almost here.  The day of His birth is just around the corner. Since it is so near, the Church reminds us of how it all started.

In the first reading from Samuel, we read how King David is bothered that he is living in a house of cedar while the ark of the Covenant where God was is in a tent. He finds that troubling because: 'how can he (David) be living in a palace while the Lord God who did everything for him is out there in a tent as if He were camping in the woods?' The prophet Nathan replies to David that he can do whatever he wants because God is with him.  However, God spoke to Nathan.  Knowing that David wanted to build a house for God, the Lord reminded Nathan who is the real builder. He reminds Nathan and tells him to also remind David that it was He who "took you from the pasture.. cared from the flock; was commander of the people of Israel; went before them, destroyed their enemies.." and so forth.  In other words, God is saying, "you want to build a house for me?? I was the one who did everything and I can do it myself."  Now God is not being an ingrate here.  He is simply reminding David, Nathan, Israel and all of us today that He is the one who does it all. 

There is nothing we can offer to God that is truly our own, for all comes from Him (James 1:17John 1:3). Think about it.  Would a gift of an iPhone to the late Steve Jobs be truly a gift?  No, it would not because he was the one who invented them and had those devices made. So, how can one build a house for God if all in this universe belongs to God and He allows things to be built or destroyed? Moreover, God states that He will establish a house for David and that when the time is right, an heir will come who will be His Son and He will be His Father.  Sounds familiar?  Who do you think this guy God is talking about is?  If you guessed Jesus, then you are correct!  Jesus is this heir who will be this descendant of King David (Matthew 1).  This is why the Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Christ.  The Gospel of Matthew was written for the Jews Per Se.  Its audience was meant for those of Jewish descent so that they could understand who Jesus was and why He is important. We will also read about the importance of Mary. Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant who will house the Lord Himself. She is the living tabernacle! 

The responsorial Psalm responds to the first reading saying that "forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord."  What is this goodness?  Well, the Psalm tells us.  It is about God being faithful to us.  Just think about this for a moment.  The God of the universe is faithful to these little creatures made of carbon, water, iron, proteins, calcium and other compounds - human beings.  Why?  Because He loves His creation (John 3:16).  The Psalm reminds us that God made a covenant with David and swore that his throne will be established and will last for all generations.  

In the second reading from Romans, St. Paul reminds us that our faith is manifesting.  The prophetic writings and faith that has been passed on were fulfilled in Jesus Christ so that all nations of the world will come to the obedience of faith in God. God kept His promise. Jesus Christ was born over 2,000 years ago and established the new covenant in His blood which is the Catholic Church. This Church is spread throughout the nations.  It is universal and excludes no one. From the Tree of Jesse sprung the branch that would capture the entire world.  The Catholic Church is the only religion that can truly claim to be universal.  We must continue to evangelize so as to bring more people into the fold. This evangelization must not only be intellectual, but also familial. We must always be welcoming of others in the Church and those outside of her. This is how we win people over to Christ. Catholic parishes can be huge, but we must make every effort to make others feel welcome and be friendly.  

Finally, in the Gospel, we read how the first reading from Samuel is fulfilled.  The archangel Gabriel is sent from God to Mary who lived in a town called Nazareth. She is a virgin and betrothed to Joseph of the house of David.  Notice the Gospel emphasizes this link between David and Joseph and in doing so, connects this to King David and the promise made to Him by God.  This Virgin is named Mary and the archangel greets her with powerful words, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!"  Sound familiar? It is the beginning of the "Hail Mary" prayer.   The word here in Koine Greek is "kecharitomene" which means "full of God's grace." It is the passive participle of "charitoos" which means "to pour on or fill with grace." This means that Mary was literally "full of God." There was no room for sin or anything evil because God took its place.  If I tell you that a glass is full of water, then that means there is no more room for anything else. This is why the Catholic Church teaches that Mary was the Immaculate Conception. She was conceived without original sin. 

Moreover, Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive an important child who she is to name Jesus.  This child will be called the Son of the Most High and will be given the throne of David His father. Notice how this is connected to the first reading in Samuel.  God told Nathan that He will build a house and rise up an heir of David who will be His Son.  Now since Mary's Son is an heir, then this means that He is King since He is inheriting the throne of King David. Mary in her innocence asks how this is possible since she is a virgin and has had no relations with a man.  The angel responds that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of the Most High will overshadow her resulting in the child being the literal Son of God.  The Gospel ends with the angel telling Mary that her relative Elizabeth will bear a son in her old age. This will happen because with God nothing is impossible. These are powerful words indeed! God can do all things. Nothing is above Him. God can do the possible and impossible.  

Mary shows her faith in God by accepting and saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  These are also familiar words found in the Angelus prayer.  The Virgin birth was foretold in Isaiah 7:14.  Many atheists have a problem understanding this "Virgin birth" thing.  However, it is not impossible, naturally and biologically speaking.  We have seen "virgin births" in nature via Parthenogenesis.  Since God created this world including Mary's body, then what is to prevent Him from allowing Mary to conceive a child in a virginal state?   The answer is nothing for with God nothing is impossible as Gabriel stated to Mary.  Mary is an example to all of us.  She shows her confusion at first which is normal but trusts that God is good and allows Him to do His will. God respects our free will and does not force Himself on us.  Mary is the model Christian. She points to Christ.  Her last recorded words in the Gospel were "Do whatever He tells you (John 2:5)."  Unfortunately, some of our separated friends in Protestantism believe that Catholics put Mary above Christ. This is extremely far from the truth. We value Mary greatly via hyperdulia or a special veneration given to Mary alone.  Christ, His Father and Holy Spirit receive latria from us or supreme worship reserved only for God alone.    

So in today's readings, we are reminded of the promise of this "Son" who would inherit King David's throne. This Son would be the Savior of the world. The Catholic liturgy beautifully links salvation history via Sacred Scripture. This is a holy time for all of us. I recommend families to watch the film "The Star" which is an animation of the story of the Nativity. This movie is great for the little ones and big ones as well.  Advent and the upcoming Christmas season are vital to our faith.  

Let us all gather now and pray "Maranatha," asking the Lord to come as we celebrate His first coming 2,000 years ago which we commemorate on Christmas.  Together with King David, the prophet Nathan, St. John the Baptist, the Blessed Mother Mary, and St. Joseph let us shout: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam! 

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