GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The Fourth Sunday for Advent in Year B may also surprise you as a reader of the Gospels, because it too is not taken from the Gospel according to Mark.
Again, the reason for this is is pretty obvious if you have read the Gospel of Mark, it is that Mark doesn't have any account of the Nativity.
He doesn't have any account of the birth of Christ, and so for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, in order to prepare us in particular for the feast of Christmas, the Church here again supplements Mark's Gospel with a reading from the Gospel of Luke, and in particular from the famous story of the Annunciation.
Just as a side note, I might emphasize that when you're going through the Advent season, especially if you go to daily Mass and Mass during the Christmas season, you're going to hear the account of the Annunciation more than once.
And that's good, it is meant to reinforce the importance of this moment of the coming of God into the world through the yes of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
So on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church reads the Gospel of Luke 1:26-38.
This is the famous story of the Annunciation.
It's well known to us but I want to look at it now and focus in particular on the emphasis that Luke is going to give to the kingdom of David as something that's appropriate in particular for the Advent season.
So let’s read through it together...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
That idea of something hidden being revealed or unveiled is very much what Paul is talking about here when he talks about:
...according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery…
Now I pause on that though, because I don’t think that most of us—or at least, speaking for myself—when we think about the Gospel, we don’t think of it as a mystery. We don’t think of it as something secret, something hidden that has been unveiled or revealed. We tend to think of the Gospel as primarily a message—“let me tell you about what happened” or “let me tell you about your salvation.” And of course that’s part of it. Jesus Himself, when He begins to preach the Gospel at the beginning of Mark, for example, He says:
...repent, and believe in the gospel.
So the call to repentance—you know, the call to salvation—is an essential part of the Gospel. There’s no evangelization without the call to repentance. But Paul is also saying something else. He’s talking about...according to the Gospel and according to the mystery. So what is this mystery, this revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed?
The language of “revelation”—I’ve mentioned this elsewhere. Apokalypsis
, unveiling, is the word we get apocalypse from. So again, we think of apocalypse as the end of the world, but apocalyptic writings and the apocalypse is the unveiling of the invisible glory that Jesus possesses now in a visible way at the end of time.
So what’s Paul referring to here when he talks about:
...the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations… (Romans 16:25b-26a)
Well, the answer to that is simple. It’s the mystery...is the identity and the mission of the Messiah. The identity and the mission of the Messiah is something that was spoken of in advance by the prophets, whether you’re looking at Isaiah’s prophecy:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end…(Isaiah 9:6-7a)
That’s from Isaiah, chapter 9. It’s also from Handel’s “Messiah,” since we’re in Advent. Or Jeremiah’s description of a new David who’s going to come and restore the twelve tribes of Israel. Or Micah’s prophecy, chapter 5, of one who would be born in Bethlehem, who would be a ruler of the nations.
These various prophecies from the Jewish Scriptures speak in advance of a king who is to come, but exactly who that king is and how he’s going to accomplish the mission of restoring Israel and bringing the kingdom—there’s a hidden element to that. There’s a mysterious element to that. When you read the writings of the prophets, it’s not exactly clear when this person’s going to come, who he’s going to be. Take for example that passage from Isaiah chapter 9. He’s going to be a son that’s born and yet he’s also called Mighty God. So is He a king and the son of David? Or is He God? Is He human or is He divine? And the answer is, of course, yes. It’s both of those.
But there’s a mystery there. There’s a hidden element to the identity and the mission of the Messiah. So the prophets also talk about the restoration of the kingdom, the ingathering of the lost tribes, the establishment of a new temple. That’s the mission of the Messiah.
But what does that mission look like? Does that mean that the future king is going to come and defeat the earthly enemies of Israel and build a new temple out of stone and mortar and reestablish the earthly kingdom of David and bring back the lost tribes from Assyria that have been scattered throughout the visible earth? Are they going to come and pilgrimage to the earthly Promised Land? Or is His mission something more than that? See the difference?
So there’s an element of mystery to the prophetic writings, and the only people who aren’t aware that there’s a mystery to the prophetic writings are people who haven’t read the prophetic writings, which is unfortunately a lot of us. A lot of Christians...we just don’t know the Old Testament very well. We don’t know the prophets. The prophets are the hardest part—in my view—when you read through the Old Testament, at least the first time I read the Old Testament in its entirety. The law of the legal material in Leviticus, Numbers...most people...Exodus as well...that’s the stuff that they think, “Ah, that’s some really difficult stuff to get through.”
But the prophets are really difficult to read—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. They’re long, they’re so complex. But they’re essential
for understanding Christianity. And although, we modern day Christians might not be familiar with the prophetic writings, Paul was. Paul knew them by heart. He quotes them from memory over and over again, especially in the letter to the Romans. So the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed through the prophetic writings...it’s made known not just to the Jews to whom the Scriptures belong, but now Paul says:
...to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith…
So think here about the Great Commission. Jesus says:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you… (Matthew 28:19-20a)
So Paul...the mystery here is the divinity, Christ—I mean, that’s not the only mystery. The divinity of the Christ and the transcendent nature of the salvation that He’s going to bring is something that can be discerned from the prophets. But there is a hidden element to them. It’s not clear until Christ comes and fulfills them, exactly who He’s going to be and how this is all going to play out.
So Paul ends his famous letter to the Romans by hitting that drum, by driving that point home—that the Gospel is a mystery, but that this mystery is now revealed to those who are in Christ and to those who have come to faith.
Now, as soon as I say all that, there’s one other element of this passage I want to highlight. It’s interesting that in verse 25, when Paul says:
...according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages… (Romans 16:25b)
The actual word there in Greek, sigaō
—it actually means “silent” for ages. So there is some kind of silent element to the mystery...to the hiddenness. And this is one of the times where Paul appears—we don’t know this for certain, there’s debate about—but there appears to show at least a link with one of the books of the Old Testament that’s only in the Catholic Bible, and that’s the Wisdom of Solomon.
In the Wisdom of Solomon chapter 18, there’s a description….it’s kind of walking through salvation history. And there’s a description of retelling the story of Passover and the story of the exodus from Egypt and of Passover night. And it describes the Passover very interestingly. In Wisdom of Solomon 18, verse 6, it talks about silence. Listen to this mystery. It’s describing Passover night:
For while gentle silence enveloped all things,
and night in its swift course was now half gone,
thy all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne,
into the midst of the land that was doomed… (Wisdom 18:14-15b)
Isn’t that fascinating? So already in this Jewish writing Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon), you have an image of the logos
coming down from heaven to break the silence—in the midst of silence, so to speak, speaking God’s word into the world. And I can’t help but wonder, although I can’t prove it, if Paul has at least that idea in mind—if not an allusion to Wisdom of Solomon—of the silence of God, the mystery, the hiddenness of God’s plan being broken, so to speak, by the coming of the Messiah and the revelation of Jesus’ identity and Jesus’ mission...which should only be fully known, really, when you begin to read the Gospel accounts of who He is and what He did in the light of the prophets from the Old Testament.
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