The 4th Sunday of Advent – 19 December 2021
Lectionary Readings: Mic. 5:1-4; Ps. 80:2-3. 15-16. 18-19; Heb. 10:5-10; Lk. 1:39-45
Theme: Leap for joy and blessings
The gospel to be read a week before Christmas is familiar to Catholics as it is the second joyful mystery of the Rosary of Our Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a short reading replete with meanings but a focus could be on the honoring of Mary and Jesus by Elizabeth and the infant in her womb.
The infant John the Baptist leaped when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greetings (Lk 1:41). We have other stories in the Bible of babies leaping in their mother’s womb to symbolize their destinies. An example is the story of the twins Jacob and Esau who struggled with each other in the womb of their mother, Rebekah. The word ‘leaping’ also echoes the eschatological day of the Lord when one is to “go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Mal 4:2). Likewise, in the Gospel narrative, the leaping is for a joyful reason. Elizabeth said, “The child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Lk 1: 44), foretelling John’s role as herald of the coming of Jesus.
Elizabeth honored Mary by calling her “blessed” three times (vv. 42, 42, 45). Mary and Elizabeth being pious Jews must have known the significance of blessings and of being blessed. Baruch is the Hebrew word for blessed and almost every Jewish prayer, except for the Shema, begins with the words “Baruch Ata Adonai” (Blessed are You, our Lord).
Mary herself in the Magnificat said that: “from now on all generations will call me blessed” (v. 48). Scholars have argued whether the Magnificat was composed by Mary or not. Moreover, Johnson said the song of praise “is a representative symbolism of Mary” or “the personification of Israel.” Brown, on the other hand, said that “the Magnificat has little direct reference to Mary’s situation but is a hymn that describes Israel, specifically the poor and oppressed remnant.”
But he said that the praises by Elizabeth (vv. 42-45) “specifically direct to Mary.” Mary is blessed concerning the child she was carrying, with Elizabeth calling her “the Mother of my Lord.”
During Jesus’ public ministry, when a woman in the crowd shouted “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you” Jesus corrected her and said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (11:27)
In Luke’s view, Mary is blessed on both counts. Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” To recall, in response to the announcement of the angel Gabriel, Mary had said,” Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be done according to your word.” (1:38)
During this Christmas of 2021, we can be like John when we find joy in the season and happily share it. We can also be like Mary in trying to discern God’s will for us and say, “Your will be done, Lord.” And we can be like Elizabeth by appreciating the blessings that we see.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What are the blessings you have received this year that have made you ‘leap for joy’? 2. What can you do to bring joy to others and do the will of God?
Bibliography: Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (New York, 1993); Johnson, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Minnesota, 1991), https://www.myjewishlearning.com/
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna July 2014