A Mother’s Greeting
On this last Sunday before Christmas, the Church’s Liturgy reveals the true identity of our Redeemer: He is, as today’s First Reading says, the “ruler…whose origin is from…ancient times.”
He will come from Bethlehem, where David was born of Jesse the Ephrathite and anointed king (see Ruth 4:11-17; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 17:1; Matthew 2:6). God promised that an heir of David would reign on his throne forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalm 89; Psalm 132:11-12).
Jesus is that heir, the One the prophets promised would restore the scattered tribes of Israel into a new kingdom (see Isaiah 9:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-25,30; 37:35). He is “the shepherd of Israel,” sung of in today’s Psalm. From His throne in heaven, He has “come to save us.”
Today’s Epistle tells us that He is both the Son of David and the only “begotten” Son of God, come “in the flesh” (see also Psalm 2:7). He is also our “high priest,” from the mold of the mysterious Melchisedek, “priest of God Most High,” who blessed Abraham at the dawn of salvation history (see Psalm 110:4; Genesis 14:18-20).
All this is recognized by John when he leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth, too, is filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. She recognizes that in Mary “the mother of my Lord” has come to her. We hear in her words another echo of the Psalm quoted in today’s Epistle (see Psalm 2:7).
Elizabeth blesses Mary for her faith that God’s Word would be fulfilled in her. Mary marks the fulfillment not only of the angel’s promise to her, but of all God’s promises down through history. Mary is the one they await in today’s First Reading – “she who is to give birth.” She will give birth this week, at Christmas. And the fruit of her womb should bring us joy – she is the mother of our Lord.
The New ‘Ark’ The Church in her liturgy and tradition has long praised Mary as “the Ark of the New Covenant.” We see biblical roots for this in the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (Cycle C).
Compare Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth with the story of David returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and you’ll hear interesting echoes.
As Mary “set out” for the hill country of Judah, so did David (see Luke 1:19; 2 Samuel 6:2). David, upon seeing the Ark, cries out “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth says the same thing about “the mother of my Lord” (see Luke 1:43; 2 Samuel 6:9).
John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, as David danced before the Ark (see Luke 1:41; 2 Samuel 6:16). And as the Ark stayed three months in “the house of Obed-edom,” Mary stays three months in “the house of Zechariah” (see Luke 1:40,56; 2 Samuel 6:11).
The Greek word Luke uses to describe Elizabeth’s loud cry of joy (anaphoneo) isn’t used anywhere else in the New Testament. And it’s found in only five places in the Greek Old Testament—every time used to describe “exultation” before the Ark (see 1 Chronicles 15:28; 16:4-5; 2 Chronicles 5:13).
Coincidences? Hardly. The old Ark contained the tablets of the Law, the manna from the desert and the priestly staff of Aaron (see Hebrews 9:4). In Mary, the new Ark, we find the Word of God, the Bread of Life and the High Priest of the new people of God (see also Catechism, no. 2676).
A Homily Attributed to St. John Chrysostom
O what a novel and wonderful mystery! John has not yet been born but already he gives voice with his bounds; he has not yet appeared but already he manifests signs of his presence; he cannot yet cry and already he is heard through what he does; as yet he has not begun his life and already he is preaching about God; he does not yet see the light and is already pointing to the sun; he has not yet been brought forth and already he hastens to act as forerunner.
The Lord is there! John cannot restrain himself; he is not going to be restricted by the limitations set by nature but strives to break out of the prison of his mother’s womb and make known beforehand the Savior’s coming.
“He who breaks our bonds has come,” he says. “and am I to remain shackled? Am I still bound to remain here? The Word comes to re-establish all things and am I still to remain captive? I will come out and run ahead of him and announce to all: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1,29).
But tell us, John, held fast as you are in the darkness of your mother’s womb, how is it that you see and hear? How can you behold divine things? How can you be leaping and rejoicing? “The mystery that is taking place is great indeed,” he says. “It is something beyond human understanding. It is with good reason that I am doing something new in the natural order on behalf of him who is to do something new in the supernatural order. I see even before my birth because I see the Sun of Justice gestating (Mal 3,20).
I perceive by ear because, in coming into the world, I myself am the voice that goes before the great Word. I cry out because I behold the only Son of the Father clothed in his flesh. I rejoice because I see the world’s Creator receive human form. I leap for joy when I think that the Redeemer of the world has taken a human body. I am the forerunner of his coming and precede your testimony with my own.
Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus Address, December 24, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The celebration of the Holy Birth is at hand. Today’s vigil prepares us to live intensely the mystery that tonight’s Liturgy will invite us to contemplate with the eyes of faith.
In the Divine Newborn, whom we will place in the manger, our Salvation is made manifest. In the God who makes himself man for us, we all feel loved and welcomed, we discover that we are precious and unique in the eyes of the Creator.
The birth of Christ helps us to become aware of the value of human life, the life of every human being, from the first instant to natural death.
To those who open their heart to this “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes” and lying “in a manger” (cf. Lk 2: 12), he offers the possibility of seeing with new eyes the realities of every day. He can taste the power of the interior fascination of God’s love and is able to transform even sorrow into joy.
Let us prepare ourselves, dear friends, to meet Jesus, the Emmanuel, God with us. Born in the poverty of Bethlehem, he wants to be the travelling companion of each one of us on our life’s journey. In this world, from the very moment when he decided to pitch his “tent”, no one is a stranger.
It is true, we are all here in passing, but it is precisely Jesus who makes us feel at home on this earth, sanctified by his presence. He asks us, however, to make it a home in which all are welcome.
The surprising gift of Christmas is exactly this: Jesus came for each one of us and in him we have become brothers.
The corresponding duty is to increasingly overcome preconceptions and prejudices, to break down barriers and eliminate the differences that divide us, or worse, that set individuals and peoples against one another, in order to build together a world of justice and peace.
With these sentiments, dear brothers and sisters, let us live the last hours that separate us from Christmas, preparing ourselves spiritually to welcome the Child Jesus. In the heart of the night he will come for us. It is his desire, however, also to come in us, to dwell in the heart of every one of us.
So that this may occur, it is indispensable that we are open and that we prepare ourselves to receive him, ready to make room for him within ourselves, in our families, in our cities.
May his birth not find us unprepared to celebrate Christmas, forgetting that the protagonist of the celebration is precisely him!
May Mary help us to maintain the interior recollection so necessary to taste the profound joy that the Redeemer’s birth brings. To her we address our prayer, thinking particularly of those who are prepared to celebrate Christmas in sadness and solitude, in sickness and in suffering: to all may the Virgin bring comfort and consolation.
After the Angelus:
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus. Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and also, this year, Christmas Eve. The Liturgy of today’s celebration invites all believers to welcome joyfully the promised Messiah who comes to us through the Virgin Mary. I wish you all a pleasant stay in Rome and a blessed Christmas filled with the peace of Christ our Lord and Saviour!
I address a cordial greeting to the personnel of L’Osservatore Romano present in St Peter’s Square and I express my appreciation for the initiative to earmark part of the extraordinary Christmas season profits of the newspaper to benefit the children recovering in the paediatric department of the “Gemelli” hospital. Thank you for this generosity.
A Good Sunday and a Merry Christmas to you all!
Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus Address, December 20, 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Lord’s Birth is at hand. With the words of the Prophet Micah, the Liturgy invites us to look at Bethlehem, the little town in Judea that witnessed the great event: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, / too small to be among the clans of Judah,/ From you shall come forth for me / one who is to be ruler in Israel; / Whose origin is from of old, / from ancient times” (Mic 5: 1). One thousand years before Christ Bethlehem had given birth to the great King David, with whose presentation as an ancestor of the Messiah the Scriptures agree. The Gospel according to Luke tells that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because Joseph, Mary’s husband, being “of the house and lineage of David”, was obliged to go to that town for the census, and in those very days Mary gave birth to Jesus (cf. Lk 2: 1-7). In fact, Micah’s prophecy continues precisely by mentioning the mysterious birth: “Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time / when she who is to give birth has borne, / And the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel” (Mic 5: 2). Thus there is a divine plan that apprehends and explains the times and places of the coming into the world of the Son of God. It is a plan of peace, as the Prophet announces further, speaking of the Messiah: “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, / in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; / And they shall remain, for now his greatness / shall reach to the ends of the earth; / he shall be peace” (Mic 5: 3).
Precisely this aspect of the prophecy, that of messianic peace, leads us naturally to emphasize that the city of Bethlehem is also a symbol of peace, in the Holy Land and in the world. Unfortunately, in our day, it does not represent an attained and stable peace, but rather a peace sought with effort and hope. Yet God is never resigned to this state of affairs, so that this year too, in Bethlehem and throughout the world, the mystery of Christmas will be renewed in the Church. A prophecy of peace for every person which obliges Christians to immerse themselves in the closures, tragedies, that are often unknown and hidden, and in the conflicts of the context in which they live, with the sentiments of Jesus so that they may become everywhere instruments and messengers of peace, to sow love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, joy where there is sadness and truth where there is error, according to the beautiful words of a well-known Franciscan prayer.
Today, as in the times of Jesus, Christmas is not a fairy-tale for children but God’s response to the drama of humanity in search of true peace. “He shall be peace”, says the Prophet referring to the Messiah. It is up to us to open, to fling open wide the doors to welcome him. Let us learn from Mary and Joseph: let us place ourselves with faith at the service of God’s plan. Even if we do not understand it fully, let us entrust ourselves to his wisdom and goodness. Let us seek first of all the Kingdom of God, and Providence will help us. A Happy Christmas to you all!
After the Angelus:
I address a cordial greeting to the staff of L’Osservatore Romano, which, in the Christmas period, has a mobile post in St Peter’s Square where it is possible to purchase the newspaper together with a small Christmas icon. I wish every good to this initiative, which as well as distributing the Vatican daily proposes to support the foundation of a school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims here today. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we are filled with joy because the Lord is at hand. We heard in today’s Gospel about Mary’s journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Just as Mary travelled through the hill country of Judah, to share with her kinswoman the joyful news of Christ’s coming, so too the Church is called to journey through history, proclaiming the wondrous message of salvation. As the great feast of Christmas draws near, I invoke God’s abundant Blessings upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones at home.
I wish everyone a peaceful Sunday and a happy celebration of holy Christmas.
Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus Address, December 23, 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent that comes just before the Nativity of the Lord, the Gospel speaks of Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth. This event is not merely a courteous gesture but portrays with great simplicity the encounter of the Old Testament with the New. Indeed the two women, both of them then pregnant, embody expectation and the Expected One. The elderly Elizabeth symbolizes Israel which is awaiting the Messiah, whereas the young Mary bears within her the fulfilment of this expectation for the benefit of the whole of humanity.
First of all in the two women the fruit of their wombs, John and Christ, meet and recognize each other. The Christian poet Prudentius comments: “the child imprisoned in the aged womb greets by his mother’s lips his Lord, the maiden’s son” (Apotheosis, 590: pl 59, 970). John’s exultation in Elizabeth’s womb is a sign of the fulfilment of the expectation: God is about to visit his People. In the Annunciation the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (cf. 1:36) as proof of God’s power; in spite of her old age her barren state was made fecund.
In her greeting to Mary Elizabeth recognizes that God’s promise to humanity is being fulfilled and exclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:42-43). In the Old Testament, the phrase “blessed are you among women” refers both to Jael (Judg 5:24), and to Judith (Jud 13:18), two women warriors who do their utmost to save Israel.
Instead it is used here to describe Mary, a peaceful young woman who is about to bring the Saviour into the world. Thus John’s leap of joy (cf. Lk 1:44) also calls to mind King David’s dancing when he accompanied the entry of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (cf. 1 Chron 15:29. The Ark that contained the Tablets of the Law, the manna and Aaron’s rod (cf. Heb 9:4) was the sign of God’s presence among his People. The unborn John exults with joy before Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, who in her womb is carrying Jesus, the Son of God made man.
The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of the greeting. Wherever there is reciprocal acceptance, listening, making room for another, God is there, as well as the joy that comes from him. At Christmas time let us emulate Mary, visiting all those who are living in hardship, especially the sick, prisoners, the elderly and children. And let us also imitate Elizabeth who welcomes the guest as God himself: without wishing it, we shall never know the Lord, without expecting him we shall not meet him, without looking for him we shall not find him. Let us too go to meet the Lord who comes with the same joy as Mary, who went with haste to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39).
Let us pray that all men and women may seek God, discovering that it is God himself who comes to visit us first. Let us entrust our heart to Mary, Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant, so that she may make it worthy to receive God’s visit in the mystery of his Birth.
After the Angelus:
I greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at this Angelus prayer. Today, as we approach the Solemnity of our Lord’s Birth among us, let us strive again to make room in our hearts to welcome the Christ Child with love and humility before such a great gift from on high. In anticipation, let me already wish you and your families a holy and peaceful Christmas!
I wish everyone a good Sunday and deep peacefulness for the upcoming festivities of Christmas. Have a good Sunday!