Studying God’s Word

Micah 5:1-4a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45 [12C]
As we enter into the Fourth Sunday of Advent, attention turns from John the Baptist to an encounter between Mary and Elizabeth. In a very real way, Luke offers us a glimpse into the first advent: Mary and Elizabeth (and even the unborn John), wait in hope for the birth of Jesus.  
The first reading comes from the prophet Micah who was active in the southern kingdom of Judah. He witnessed the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BC. Micah was also a contemporary to the prophet Isaiah. Both prophets shared a similar prophetic message that was highly critical of the political and religious leaders in both Samaria and Jerusalem, the capital cities of both kingdoms. But each was also a prophet of hope that spoke of a coming messianic age (see Mi 4–5 and Is 6–12). In today’s reading from Micah, we hear an excerpt from Micah 4–5 where the prophet foretells of the messianic age beginning with a woman giving birth to a son. The son will “stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD” and “his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” Isaiah offers a similar prophecy (see Is 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”). Scholars suspect some Israelites may have seen this prophecy from Micah and Isaiah fulfilled in the birth of King Hezekiah of Judah in 740 BC. Hezekiah was highly regarded as a reformer king who was not afraid to confront religious and political corruption of his times. The Gospel writers Matthew and Luke, who quote Isaiah and Micah in their infancy narratives, clearly saw their prophecies fulfilled in Mary’s birth of Jesus.

In the Gospel reading, we hear Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary who came to the “hill country” to visit her. Luke tells us that upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The presence and work of the Holy Spirit is a major theme in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Throughout Luke’s infancy narrative, for example, the Holy Spirit is present, filling individuals with insight and wisdom (Elizabeth, 1:41; Zechariah, 1:67; Simeon, 2:25). In fact, for Luke, the Holy Spirit is present in Jesus’ public ministry (Lk 4:1, 18) as well as central to the birth and life of the early church (Acts 2:1-4; 9:31). One of the important messages in Elizabeth’s greeting was the importance of Mary’s depth of faith: “Blessed are you who believed that was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (emphasis added).
Elizabeth’s insight into Mary’s faith is closely connected to one of the main points in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. The author to Hebrews presents Jesus quoting Psalm 40:7-9, a short prayer that states that God is less interested in sacrifices and sin offerings; rather, God takes delight in the one who says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” For Hebrews, the divine command to do God’s “will” supersedes the traditional Jewish purity laws that involved the rituals of sacrifices and holocausts because by Christ following God’s “will” and offering his body on the cross, all believers are “consecrated” by their faith in Christ.
As we anticipate the birth of Christ in the coming days, the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent draw our attention to Mary and Jesus. Each embraced God’s directive: “Behold, I come to do your will.” As the Gospel reading teaches us today, it was Elizabeth who first bore witness to Mary as the model of this response to God. As Christians preparing for the birth of the Messiah, we are challenged to follow this divine decree as well.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz