Sunday Sermon for December 24, 2023, 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 first reading today, we hear one of the most important prophecies contained in Scripture.  There are about 300 specific prophecies regarding the Messiah, but some of them help us to narrow down Who the Messiah will be and from which family line He will come.  Going all the way back to the Book of Genesis, we know the Messiah will be a descendent of Abraham and will come from the tribe of Judah.  Of course, over the centuries, many people were born into this tribe. 

At the time of David, a thousand years before the Messiah would come into the world, God clarified the question regarding the human origins of the Messiah.  As we see in the first reading, God chose to establish a house for David and raise up an heir after him whose kingdom would endure forever and be firm.  More than that, the Lord reveals regarding this heir that “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.”

One might think this prophecy is speaking about one of David’s many sons or, more specifically, about Solomon who became king in his father’s stead.  But, considering this was already a forgone conclusion, God would not have needed to reveal this to David.  However, the fact that David would have a “house” established, meaning a dynasty or a long-running line of kings, was not a foregone conclusion.

We know from history that the kingship in Israel lasted for a total of only fifty-three kings.  By the time the Angel Gabriel appeared to our Lady, there had not been a king from David’s line for several centuries.  Nonetheless, this prophecy given to David through the prophet Nathan made clear to the Jewish people that the Messiah would be from David’s line and that he would somehow be a king. 

So clear was this fact to the people of Israel that a group of people, basing their actions on the Scriptural prophecies, narrowed down the line from which the Messiah would be born to the point that they founded a town where this group would live.  This town was given the name Nazareth, from the Hebrew word nazer, which means a shoot, from the prophecy of Isaiah that stated a shoot would sprout from the stump of Jesse (David’s father).

All of this stands behind the event portrayed in the Gospel reading today when the Angel speaks to a virgin in the town of Nazareth about the Son she would bear Who would sit on the throne of His father, David.  The greatest twist in the plot revealed by the Angel is that the Messiah would not be called a son of God because of his holiness and obedience, but because He is the Son of God, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. 

This is essential information to help us understand some of the background behind the Gospel reading and the nature of our Lady’s response to the Angel.  But more importantly for us, it is essential information so that we can make our own response to the revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, Who is also a Son of David and a Son of Abraham from the tribe of Judah. 

Our Lady certainly knew the prophecy of Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be called Emmanuel, but the Jewish understanding of these prophecies did not assume God Himself would be Incarnate in the womb of an actual virgin.  They would have assumed that a young woman who was a virgin would get married and conceive.  This is not what God said, but it is the struggle of the human mind to accept what it cannot understand.  Therefore, we try to rationalize our way around things to make it more acceptable or understandable.

God has given us these prophecies and all this information to help us grasp the fullness of the truth regarding the Messiah, not only of His Incarnation and birth, but also of His Passion, death, and resurrection. This is the Gospel St. Paul is talking about in the second reading that was made known to the Gentiles in order to bring about the obedience of faith.  While we can never fully understand these mysteries, God has enabled us to grasp them to some degree.

With this in mind, we are now asked to enter into this obedience of faith.  Our Lady was presented with these truths in a moment and responded with the obedience of faith.  Now it has all been presented to us to fill our minds and hearts so we can accept God’s revelation with the obedience of faith and say with our Lady: “May it be done to me according to your word!”

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