Sunday Sermon for December 24, 2017, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: 2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38

In the readings today the Church gives us the full hope and expectation of the coming of our Lord. Long promised to the people of Israel, the Messiah was longed for and eagerly awaited by those who put their faith in God. They knew the promises the Lord had made to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, and, as we hear in the first reading, to David.

Unfortunately, as we so often do, we twist God’s promises to fulfill what we want them to be. The people of Israel were no different. They could look at Abraham’s defeat of the five kings, the triumph of Moses over Pharaoh, and the glory of the kingship of David as he defeated the enemies of Israel. Considering these military events in the lives of those who had led the people of Israel in the past, it might be natural for the people to assume the Messiah would be one who would lead the people to victory in battle. In a particular way, at the time of our Lord, it was a fairly common belief that the Messiah, a king in the royal line of David, would free Israel from the oppression of the Romans and restore the way of life and worship that was specific to the Jews.

In the Gospel reading the Angel Gabriel tells our Lady that God would give her Son the throne of David as an everlasting kingdom. So far, it would appear the ideas of a military messiah were correct. However, in the second reading St. Paul speaks of a mystery God had kept secret for long ages, a mystery that was, in fact, manifested through the prophetic writings. Although it was clearly revealed by God to the Prophets, it was not recognized and understood by those who read or interpreted the Prophets.

There are actually two points that God had revealed, but one was so far beyond what the human mind could imagine that it was not even considered. The second was so contrary to the Jewish way of thinking that it was not entertained by anyone in the ancient world. I wonder if the Prophets to whom God revealed these truths even grasped the full meaning of what was revealed to them.

The first, as we hear in the Gospel reading, is that the Son to be born of our Lady will be called the Son of the Most High. Of course, the Jewish people did not have a concept of the Trinity, so the only way they could understand someone being a son of God was simply by being favored in a special way by the Lord. They correctly understood that there is only one God, but failed to understand that the Son is coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. So, for the Jews, their concept of the son of God was human, not divine.

So, the first mystery is the full revelation of the Person of Jesus as the Son of God Who would take a human nature to Himself in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This continues to be beyond our imagination because it is an absolute mystery, that is, one which we will never fully comprehend, even for eternity. But this is not the mystery to which St. Paul refers. He is speaking of the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles and bringing them into the obedience of faith.

Once again, this is revealed through the Prophets, but the Jewish people would naturally have assumed that the Gentiles would become Jews. After all, the Jewish people were the Chosen People, they were given the revelation of God, and they were given the proper worship of God. What they did not realize is that all of this prefigured something even greater: a people who would be the children of God, a fuller revelation of the Triune God, and the perfect worship of God in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Who could have understood any of this?

With the privilege we have to understand these truths, we must also realize the responsibility that comes with it. We know the Baby born of Mary is God, we know what He taught, we know what He did to save us, we know He is present in the Holy Eucharist. Only by delving deeper into these mysteries will we be filled with faith in His promises and an eager longing for their fulfillment in us. This is the fulfillment of what is prefigured in the Church: unity with and in Christ, perfect worship and love of God. This is the life of Heaven; that we, as sons and daughters of God in Christ could participate in this life is the reason Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth.

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