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Fourth Sunday of Advent - Cycle C December 20, 2009 Scripture Readings First: Micah 5: 1-4. Second : Hebrews 10: 5-10. Gospel : Luke 1:39-45. Prepared by: Fr. Stephen Dominic Hayes, OP 1. Subject Matter
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As we come close to the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord that Christmas, the readings point us directly to the mystery of the Incarnation. The precise method by means of which the Almighty has decided to save the human race is that it should encounter him precisely as a social and historical being. God wishes to come to mankind through mankind; and for this reason Christ was born in Bethlehem. The readings today, however, cast God's visitation of his people precisely as encounter : and this encounter for-shadows the continuing role of Holy Church. The most Blessed Virgin Mary, bearing Christ under her heart, the Savior she has conceived through hearing and believing the Word of the Angel delivered to her, comes to visit Elizabeth, the mother of the greatest of prophets, whose father yet refused to believe message of the Angel. The unborn Messiah shares his prophetic Spirit with the unborn John as their mothers meet; the silent Prophet, cleansed from sin for his ministry, chosen now manifestly by God from the womb, leaps for joy at the coming of the Christ and fills his own mother with words of prophecy. Holy Church, whose image is Mary, who bears Christ into the world in every age, remains the place of encounter through which God visits his people.

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2. Exegetical Notes
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The prophet Micah puts before us the mysterious figure of the Messiah who is at the same time, from the clans of Judah and yet whose origin is also, from of old, from ancient times. He is given the royal title of Shepherd ; and yet he shall shepherd God's flock "by the strength of the Lord". The service of this Messiah is not only for Israel; for his greatness is to reach the ends of the earth . He shall be peace ( Heb. shalom ): there is a play on words here both upon the name of King Solomon, the son of King David - for the Messiah will be another son of David, and, as Solomon was in his day, a man of peace; there is also potentially a play on the Messiah s role as King of Jerusalem; he shall be Peace ; and Jerusalem means, City of Peace - he who is peace possesses Jerusalem as his own. In

the Christ, the eschatological city of peace is possessed by the King who make peace between heaven and earth with his own blood upon the hills of Jerusalem. According to a spiritual sense, Micah foreshadows the Church's understanding of the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the Person of the divine Word and Son.
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Hebrews 10: 5-7 attribute the words of Psalm 40:7-9a to the Son at the Incarnation. The Masoretic text differs from the Septuagint here: the MT says ears you have dug for me (emphasizing the importance of obedience over mere ritual observance, without rejecting ritual observance) whereas the LXX , a body you have prepared for me is especially relevant to the Lord's own self offering at himself in death. In verse nine, Behold, I have come to do your will. He annuls the former in order to establish the latter, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews emphasizes that Christ has come precisely to establish a new order of worship, in which the various rituals temple sacrifice on our now replaced by the one selfsufficient and voluntary offering of Jesus Christ to his Father' s will. The Messiah is born at Bethlehem precisely that he may ascend the Cross at Calvary. The Incarnation of Christ is directed precisely to the sacrifice of the His Redemption. The Gospel for today is from Luke, and deals with the Visitation. Luke has constructed the infancy narratives of Christ in conjunction with an account of the origins of John the Baptist; in fact, there is a deliberate and complete comparison, which the scholars compare to the familiar classical artistic form of the diptych, between that of Christ and the holy Forerunner. Christ's birth is foretold and believed by the Virgin; John's birth is foretold and not believed by Zachary his father the priest; the two Nativities of John and his Precursor will be compared in a similar manner. These four panels of the two diptychs come together in the account of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth which is the subject of this week's Gospel. The Mother of Christ meets the mother of John the Baptist, and Christ the bearer of the Holy Spirit communicates that Spirit of prophecy to the Baptist while he is still in the womb. The Holy Spirit is extremely active and visible in the Gospel of Luke, and particularly so in this passage. The account of the Visitation is extremely rich in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Elizabeth's child, the prophet of God, leaps in the womb: this reminds us of Rebecca s children (Genesis 25:22ff.); and of King David's words and dancing before the advent of the Holy Ark to Jerusalem ( 2 Samuel 6:16); Isaiah s prophecy of the response of God's poor to the Advent of the Messiah (Isaiah 35:6); this last instance may be multiplied (Psalm 114:6; Malachi 3:20, etc.) Elizabeth's words Blessed are you in praise of Mary are presaged in the Old Testament in such places as Deborah's praise of Jael (Judges 5:24), the praising of Judith (Judith 13:18) and the abundant blessings of Deuteronomy 7:12-14. The present passage is argued to Mary's own words, filled with the Holy Spirit in her Magnificat, read later in the week.

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3. References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
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CCC 463 Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God." Such is the joyous conviction of the Church from her beginning whenever she sings "the mystery of our religion": "He was manifested in the flesh."

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CCC 476 Since the Word became flesh in assuming a true humanity, Christ's body was finite. Therefore the human face of Jesus can be portrayed; at the seventh ecumenical council (Nicaea II in 787) the Church recognized its representation in holy images to be legitimate. CCC 477 At the same time the Church has always acknowledged that in the body of Jesus "we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see." The individual characteristics of Christ's body express the divine person of God's Son. He has made the features of his human body his own, to the point that they can be venerated when portrayed in a holy image, for the believer "who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted". CCC 523 St. John the Baptist is the Lord's immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. "Prophet of the Most High", John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother's womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being "the friend of the bridegroom", whom he points out as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". Going before Jesus "in the spirit and power of Elijah", John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom. CCC 971 "All generations will call me blessed": "The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship." The Church rightly honors "the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration." The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an "epitome of the whole Gospel," express this devotion to the Virgin Mary. Origen (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 7.1): Better men go o weaker men to give them some advantage by their visits. Thus the Savior came to John to sanctify John's baptism Jesus was in her womb, and he hastened to sanctify John, who was still in his own mother's womb . but as soon as Mary spoke the word that the Son of God, in his mother's womb had supplied, "the infant leaped in joy." At that moment Jesus made his forerunner a prophet for the first time. St. Ephrem the Syrian (Commentary on Tatian s Diatesseron 1.30): Moreover, that he exulted in the womb of his mother was not of himself, nor because of his five months, but so that the divine gifts might show themselves in the barren one that was now carrying him. It was also so that the other womb, that of the Virgin, would know of the great gifts given to Elizabeth, and that the two soils might believe in the seeds they had received through the word of Gabriel, cultivator of both grounds. Since John could not cry out in his exultation and render witness to his Lord, his mother began to say, "You are blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Our Lord prepared his herald in a dead womb, to show that he came after a dead Adam. He vivified Elizabeth's womb first, and then vivified the soul of Adam through his body. Maximus of Turin (Sermon 5.4): Not yet born, already John prophesies, and while still in the enclosure of his mother's womb confesses the coming of Christ with movements of joy-since

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4. Patristic Commentary and Other Authorities
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he could not do so with his voice. As Elizabeth says to holy Mary, "As soon as you greeted me the child in my womb exulted for joy." John exults, then, before he is born. Before his eyes can see what the world looks like, he can recognize the Lord of the world with his spirit. In this regard, I think that the prophetic phrase is appropriate: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you came forth from the womb I sanctified you. Thus we ought not to marvel that after Herod put him in prison, he continued to announce Christ to his disciples from his confinement, when even confined in the womb he preached the same Lord by his movements.
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Theophylact: Mary is blessed by Elisabeth with the same words as before by Gabriel, to show that she was to be reverenced both by men and angels. St. Gregory the Great: She was touched with the spirit of prophecy at once, both as to the past, present, and future. She knew that Mary had believed the promises of the Angel; she perceived when she gave her the name of mother, that Mary was carrying in her womb the Redeemer of mankind; and when she foretold that all things would be accomplished, she saw also what was as to follow in the future. Titus Bostrensis (Catena Aurea). Now she rightly calls the Lord the fruit of the virgin's womb, because He proceeded not from man, but from Mary alone. For they who are sown by their fathers are the fruits of their fathers. St. Ambrose of Milan (Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 2.26): You see that Mary did not doubt but believe and therefore obtained the fruit of faith. "Blessed are you who have believed. But you are also blessed to have heard and believed. For a soul that has believed as both conceived and bears the word of God and declares his works. At the soul of Mary B. in each of you so that it magnifies the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary B. in each of you, so that it rejoices in God. She is the one mother of Christ according to the flesh, yet Christ is the Fruit of all according to faith. Every soul receives the word of God, provided that, undefiled and unstained by vices, it guards its purity with inviolate modesty. St. Prudentius ( The Divinity of Christ, 585-93.) Believe what says the angel who is sent/ From the Father's throne, or if your stolid ear / Catch not the voice from heaven, be wise and hear / The cry of aged woman, now with child. / O wondrous fate! The baby in senile womb /Greets through his mother's lips the Virgin's Son, / Our Lord; the child unborn makes known the cry / Of the Child bestowed on us, for speechless yet, / He caused that mouth to herald Christ as God. The Venerable Bede (Homilies on the Gospels 1.4): Blessed is the fruit of your womb since through here we have recovered both the seat of incorruption and the fruit of our heavenly inheritance, which we lost in Adam.

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5. Examples from the Saints and Other Exemplars
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6. Quotations from Pope Benedict XVI
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Pope Benedict XVI (Daughter Zion; Meditations on the Church's Marian Belief, John M. McDermott, S. J., Tr., San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983, pp.80-82.): She who is wholly baptized, as the personal reality of the true Church, is at the same time not nearly the Church s promised certitude of solution but it's bodily certitude also Luke recounts in the story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, that when Mary's greeting rang out John "leaped for joy in

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his mother's womb". this word also appears in one of the old Greek translations of the Old Testament to describe David's dance before the Ark of the Covenant after it had been returned home (2 Samuel 6:16, Symmachus). Perhaps Laurentin is not entirely off the mark when he finds the whole scene of the Visitation constructed as a parallel to the homecoming of the Ark of the Covenant; thus the leaping of the child continues David's ecstatic joy at the guarantee of God's nearness. Be that as it may, something is expressed here that has been almost entirely lost in our century and nevertheless belongs to the heart of faith; essential to it is the joy and the word become man, the dance before the Ark of the Covenant, in selfforgetful happiness, by one who has recognized God's salvific nearness. Pope Benedict XVI ( Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith; the Church as Communion, Stephen Otto Horn, ed..Vincenz Pfnuer, ed., Henry Taylor, tr., San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003, pp165166): God has approached man in such a way that through him, and account of him, they can find their way to one another. Thus the Incarnation includes the communal and historical aspects of faith. Taking the way of the body means that the time, as a reality, and the social nature of man become features of man's relationship with God, features that are in turn based upon God's existing relationship with men. God's action brings into being "the People of God," and "the People of God," on the basis of Christ, become "the Body of Christ"... The ultimate goal for us all is that of becoming happy. Yet happiness exists only in company with each other, and we can keep company only in the infinity of love. There is happiness only in the removal of the barriers of the self in moving into divinity, in becoming divine.

7. Other Considerations
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Our modern culture seems to have a tin ear with regard to the theological issues involved with the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. On the one hand, in some evangelical Christian circles, the resurrection of the Lord is emphasized as that which is most important and to be revered; at the other extreme, many skeptics, though willing to accept the notion of Jesus as "a great moral teacher" are yet not willing to admit the idea of Divinity made manifest in humanity , chiefly because, if true, this makes Jesus a moral teacher like no other, Christianity a religion like no other, and that a tolerant relativism with regard to moral and religious truth is no longer a tenable or intellectually serious position. The right doctrine of the incarnation unites in communion both the divine and human order of things, as well as the created and Uncreated in a single Person. The God who forbade his followers to fashion visible forms of him according to their imagination now makes for himself a face and form by which to be known universally; and God himself manifests his own plan for humanity, no longer by ordinance or Commandment, but in one living individual who is to be the pattern upon which a new humanity is to be forged. Jesus Christ thus is the perfect image of the Father in the flesh, and the image of humanity brought to God's perfection.

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Recommended Resources Benedict XVI, Pope. Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI. Yonkers, Ignatius Press/ Magnificat 2006. New York: Magnificat: SAS, 2006. Copyright

Brown, Raymond E., S.S., Fitzmeyer, Joseph, S.J., and Murphy, Roland E., O. Carm. The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Two Vols. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Harrington, Daniel J, S.J. , Ed. The Gospel of Luke. Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 3: Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998. Jurgens, William A. The Faith of the Early Fathers. 3 Vols. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979. Just, Arthur A.., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, Vol. 3, Luke. Thomas C. Oden, gen. ed. Downers Grove, IL : Intervarsity Press, (Institute of Classical Christian Studies), 2003. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected out of the Works of the Fathers. Volume III- Pt. II: St. Luke. Albany, N.Y.: Preserving Christian Publications, Inc., 2001.

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