The Fourth Sunday of Advent
First Reading: Micah 5:1-4
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Second Reading: The Letter to the Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel: According to St. Luke 1:39-45
We all love to see the underdog snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We all love to hear the rags-to-riches stories of those who have become great successes in sports and in life. There seems to be an almost inborn feeling that we all have to see the ‘everyman’ become the ‘Superman.’ Maybe this is one of the ways that we were created in God’s likeness, since one of the predominant themes of the Old Testament is God’s bringing success to the underdog and raising the lowly to greatness.
From the macrocosmic level when God chooses tiny Israel as opposed to the powerful empires of Egypt or Babylon to the microcosmic when God chooses the shepherd boy David to battle the giant warrior Goliath, the choice is always one that to the human mind really makes no sense. Why choose a small, weak and enslaved nation? Why choose a mere youth with a slingshot?
In this weekend’s readings we see that God continues this trend by choosing Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus, and by choosing Mary as His mother. The prophet Micah tells us that Bethlehem is the least of the towns of the tribe of Judah. With a proud past that no one seems to remember – it is both the burial place of Rachel, the mother of Joseph, the great Christ-figure of the book of Genesis, and the birth place of King David, the archetype of the Messiah who was to lead the Israelites to glory – Bethlehem is at the time of Micah just another unimportant village in the hill country of Judah.
So it is fitting that the gospel reading from St. Luke opens with the line:
“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,”
Mary’s cousin Elizabeth lives in yet another nondescript town in the hills of Judah, and the world is totally unaware of the incredible event taking place in her house. A barren woman is now pregnant with the precursor to the Messiah and is being tended to by her cousin, a young virgin who is carrying the Child of the Most High God.
This event is so amazing that the meeting of these two unlikely mothers-to-be isn’t even the real highlight. The real highlight is the meeting of their children. When John leaps in her womb, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, sees not with her eyes, but with her heart, that her cousin is carrying the long-awaited Messiah. She then speaks words that, in the minds of believers and non-believers alike, can only be described as “Catholic”:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Elizabeth concludes her Marian acclamation with words that foreshadow what Jesus will tell His disciples after the resurrection:
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Who would believe that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah? Who would believe that a barren woman would give birth to the great prophet John? Who would believe that a young virgin would be the mother of the Son of God? Elizabeth answers those questions for us: those who are blessed. And it is good to stop, amidst all of the hectic pre-Christmas craziness, and thank God for allowing all of us, each an underdog in her or his own special way, to be so blessed.