Sunday Sermon for December 20, 2015, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C

Readings: Mic 5:1-4a; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-45
In the readings today we hear about our Lord’s Incarnation at its beginning, at His birth, and in its purpose. We hear about the beginning in the Gospel where our Lady visits St. Elizabeth whose baby, St. John the Baptist, leaps in her womb for joy in the presence of the Lord. We hear about His birth in the first reading where the Prophet Micah tells us where the Messiah is to be born. We hear about the purpose and fulfillment of the Incarnation in the second reading where St. Paul explains the need for our Lord to have a body in order to offer Himself as a holocaust.

To consider the first point. We have in the Gospel the story of the meeting of two mothers who are with child through miraculous means. Elizabeth is well beyond the normal years of childbearing and Mary is a virgin. The conception of both children was revealed by an angel prior to the children being conceived. All of this can be attributed only to the grace of God. However, there are activities taking place on two different levels. On the natural level the two mothers meet and speak. They both give glory to God, but they are speaking with one another on a normal, human plane.

At the same time that the mothers are speaking, the Saints tell us that there is another communication that is happening on the spiritual level between the two children. Elizabeth states that the baby leapt in her womb at the moment that our Lady’s greeting reached her ears. But was it the sound of our Lady’s voice or was it a silent communication between the inhabitants of the two wombs that caused the joy? There would certainly be cause for rejoicing if our Lady spoke with any of us. But in this case, it seems that the two women communicate on one level and the two babies communicate on another level.

Some might suggest that because of the holiness of the two mothers, that St. John the Baptist was feeling the spiritual connection between the two women and that this caused him to leap. However, the Church teaches us that it was at this very moment that original sin was removed from the soul of the Baptist; hence, a few months later, he was born without original sin. As holy as our Lady is, she did not have the ability of herself to remove sin from anyone. Only the Lord can do that, so it can only be that at the moment the women exchanged their greeting, Jesus worked a hidden miracle and removed the stain of Adam’s sin from the soul of St. John causing him to leap for joy.

To the Prophet Micah God revealed that His Son would be born in Bethlehem. Even though this was the hometown of King David, it was still too small to be counted among the clans of Israel. A clan is a comprised of a thousand people. Therefore, the town was still fairly small, even though it was well known because of the family of David.

We know that God promised to David that the Messiah would come from his line, but that did not automatically imply that He would be born in Bethlehem. This becomes more clear when we think about the fact that the area just to the east of Jerusalem was called the “City of David.” One might be inclined, therefore, to assume that someone born of David’s line would be born in Jerusalem. Hence, the necessity of God’s revelation making His will clear for everyone.

While it is wonderful to see the Lord at work even while He was in the womb and it is equally wonderful to contemplate the beauty of the scene of His holy birth, there is still the question of why He would be doing all of this. The Church answers this question for us in the second reading where we come to understand that the reason he took our human nature to Himself was so that He could suffer and die. The grace of this sacrifice was anticipated and applied to both our Lady and St. John the Baptist: our Lady was conceived without sin and original sin was removed from the soul of the Baptist.

St. Paul puts on the lips of Jesus the words of Psalmist when he speaks of the God not wanting sacrifices and offerings, but that was given a body and He has come to do the will of God. It was the will of the Father that the body conceived in and born through our Lady would be offered to take away sins. So, the purpose of the Incarnation is our redemption which was brought about through the bodily suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit