Are we prepared for a worthy celebration of the Savior’s birth?
By: By Father Claude Peifer, OSB
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 23
Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
This year, since the final Sunday of Advent occurs just one day before the Vigil of Christmas, we are standing on the very threshold of the great mystery of the Lord’s birth. Thus we begin the Sunday Mass with the invocation: “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.”
This passage derives from Isaiah 45:8, in which the prophet prayed that God’s justice and salvation might come down upon Israel like the dew and gentle rain that fall from heaven. The Church, seeing the ultimate fulfillment of this desire in the incarnation, has modified the passage, changing “justice” to “the Just One” and “salvation” to “Savior.” In this Christianized form, the text beautifully expresses our Advent longing just before its liturgical fulfillment in the Christmas festival.
The readings of this Sunday also place us at the entrance to the great celebration. The passage from Micah, the only prophetic text to speak of Bethlehem, hails this village as the one from which there “shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. . . . He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord. . . . His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.”
ALL IS NOW READY
Bethlehem was David’s place of origin. This passage seems to refer back to the oracles of Isaiah and the important dynastic oracle (see 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89), which made him the founder of an enduring royal line from which an anointed one (a “messiah”), a new David, would come forth as champion of his people. St. Matthew in his infancy Gospel says that the scribes consulted by Herod cited this text as proof that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
In response to this reading, the liturgy gives us Psalm 80, “O Shepherd of Israel, hearken . . . shine forth. Rouse your power, and come to save us. . . . Give us new life, and we will call upon your name,” with the antiphon “Lord, make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Thus the Church expresses our desperate need for the intervention of the Savior.
The second reading, too, focuses on the imminent coming of the Savior, telling us of the intention of Jesus as he came into the world. This motive the author finds in a passage from Psalm 40. “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me. . . . I have come to do your will, O God.” The author explains, “He takes away the first covenant to establish the second.” But he does this precisely by taking on a body; thus the reality of the incarnation is emphasized.
Finally, the Gospel is St. Luke’s account of the visitation of the pregnant Mary to her relative Elizabeth and the latter’s greeting: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary’s faith is proposed as the perfect model for us: “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” All is now ready for our celebration of the birth of the Redeemer.
Standing on the threshold of the solemnity, our sentiments are perfectly expressed in the prayer after Communion: “As the feast day of our salvation draws ever nearer, so we may press forward all the more eagerly to the worthy celebration of the mystery of your Son’s Nativity.”
FATHER CLAUDE PEIFER, OSB, is the former abbot of St. Bede Abbey in Peru. Previously he had served his community as master of novices and junior monks, as choirmaster, and as chief financial officer. His teaching and writing have been in the areas of sacred Scripture and monastic studies.