24 December, 2019. Tuesday of Advent, Week 4

1st Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16

David is promised a “house” or dynasty

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”; Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”;
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”;

Responsorial: Psalm 88: 2-5, 27, 29

Response: For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord;
through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.
Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever,
that your truth is firmly established as the heavens.
‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant;
I will establish your dynasty for ever
and set up your throne through all ages.’
He will say to me: ‘You are my father,
my God, the rock who saves me.’
I will keep my love for him always;
for him my covenant shall endure. .

Gospel: Luke 1:67-79

Zechariah predicts the future of his son, John the Baptist

Then John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
May your words, O Lord, be in my thoughts, on my lips, and in my heart. May they be my guide on life’s journey and keep me near to you.

How might these Readings apply today?

Zechariah’s new understanding of God

After being made speechless for doubting God’s word, the father of John the Baptist suddenly regains his voice, to loudly proclaim the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. His is a song of Advent, as we wait for the light that has already come and is still yet to come. Before God’s messenger (Gabriel) appeared to Mary, he came to Zechariah with a startling promise like that first made to Abraham centuries before. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s advanced age is a clear parallel with Sarah and Abraham, when they too conceived their long hoped-for son, Isaac. Zechariah belongs to a priestly rank in Israel and Elizabeth too is a descendent of Aaron’s priestly family. Thus the son they will raise is destined to lead people towards God. Then too, Gabriel promises that John will be filled with the spirit and power of Elijah, a great prophet who turned his people to repentance (Malachi 4:5-6). Zechariah’s doubt at Gabriel’s words parallels Sarah’s unbelieving laugh at the idea that she could bear a child at her age (Genesis 18:12-15).
The background to Zechariah’s song is the biblical belief that God’s promises are fulfilled. When at first Zechariah doesn’t believe, he is rendered mute until the day the promised event occurs. Eight days after John’s birth, Zechariah and Elizabeth take him to be circumcised, following the ritual commanded to Abraham (Genesis 17:12.) When the time comes to name the child, Elizabeth insists that he be given the name John, as God had prescribed. His friends turned to Zechariah, who confirmed the name — and immediately he regained his speech and began praising God, whose promises are always fulfilled.
Zechariah’s song can become our own, this Christmas Eve, as we pray for a more personal awareness of God in our lives. We see light on the horizon, and wait in hope for it to become the full, dazzling light of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. We live between the already and the not-yet. A light has dawned but hasn’t yet reached the darkness in and around us. As disciples of Christ we live in a kind of Advent-waiting, knowing that the divine light has come to our world, yet still awaiting for it to shine in fullest measure. We may even doubt that such a glorious future is possible. But with Zechariah, we can also look up at the dawn, as the first shimmering of the radiance that God has in store for his people.

With Zechariah, we can also look up at the dawn, as the first shimmering of the radiance that God has in store for his people…


  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    David wants to build a house where God will dwell among his people. Instead God will build a house where God will dwell – it will be the House of David which will be the sign of God’s living presence. The ultimate fulfilment will be in the new temple which Jesus will raise up: we who are the temple, the living stones of the temple of the presence of God among his people.
    “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
    to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
    This is the climax of the Benedictus, the prayer of Zechariah.
    Luke’s gospel was written after the life and death of John, and after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. John had been imprisoned before his execution – he had sat in darkness and in the shadow of death.
    And yet the dawn from on high has broken for all of us in darkness and the shadow of death, with the firm promise of being guided into the way of peace.

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Some out-of-the-box reflections on Christmas:
    WHAT IF…
    Still …
    Jesus was crazy. He came into the world
    with the nutty idea that human beings could love one another…
    Peace on earth, indeed! Maybe Jesus should have stayed home. He was wrong. We cannot love one another.
    The best we can do is keep the levels of hatred
    low enough so we don’t exterminate one another
    before we all die …
    It was a great idea, of course. Too bad it didn’t work.
    What if he wasn’t crazy?
    What if he was right?
    What if it is possible to love one another?
    What if the lion can lie down with the lamb?
    What if Arab and Jew, Protestant and Catholic,
    black and white, young and old, male and female,
    can love one another without fear, without hatred,
    without death and destruction?
    What if the crib scene is what the world is really
    all about and everything else is phony?
    What would it be like if Jesus knew the way
    things really were?
    What if life does triumph over death,
    light over darkness,
    good over evil,
    love over hate,
    comedy over tragedy…?
    What if…
    Andrew Greeley Chicago Tribune
    “The Other Stocking” by G.K. Chesterton
    What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.
    As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good–far from it.
    And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.
    I have merely extended the idea.
    Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.
    Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea.
    Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.
    Oscar Romero: (The Violence of Love)
    No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God – for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.
    Nativity Play with a Difference (Sacred Space):
    All I want for Christmas is uncertainty (Cindy Brandt):

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    MARY IN PERSPECTIVE (Homily, 22 December)
    1. So who’s the first woman mentioned in the New Testament? Anyone know? Well, I had to look it up myself. She’s Tamar, and along with Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba makes up an unsettling quartet among the ancestresses of Jesus, taking us into murky areas of prostitution, adultery, and even murder. Mary too appears under the sign of sordid shame, as a fallen woman, whom her righteous fiancé must of course dismiss, hushing up her offence as much as possible. But a remarkable revelation of the Holy Spirit puts all in a new light. The child to be born is Jesus (‘God saves’) and Emmanuel (‘God with us’). So the divine comes right into the heart of our murky, troubled, contentious existence and touches all with grace and light.
    Mary is a very discreet and passive presence in this story; Joseph takes the lead, himself led by angelic dreams, and saving the child amid dreadful massacre and the hardships of exile. Only in Luke’s version does Mary come into her own, cooperating with providence by her consent (“Be it done unto me according to thy word”). And with Luke the great Marian epic is well and truly launched. John mentions her only twice, but at key moments: she is the one who prompts his first “sign” at Cana and she is placed at the foot of Cross. The slightest mention of Mary was no doubt already sufficient to set off a conflagration of pious enthusiasm and speculation.
    2. Mary is essential to Christmas, because she is the one who guarantees that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2), fully human. For what is it that every human being has? Anyone know? A mother! It was said that she alone quashes all heresies (‘Cunctas haereses sola interimisti’). She crushes Manicheanism by showing the goodness of the body and childbirth, Docetism by showing the reality of Christ’s humanity, Nestorianism by showing that the mother of Jesus is the mother of one and the same person who is truly human, truly divine, Monophysitism by showing that his humanity is not confused with the divinity or altered in nature by the union, and all errors about grace and free will by the way that everything depends on grace in her story (she is nothing apart from grace), yet her free consent shows grace elevating and magnifying freedom.
    She crushes the illusions of pride by her humility and obedience, reversing Eve’s pride and disobedience. “We know that He, before all creatures, proceeded from the Father by His power and will,… and by means of the Virgin became man, in order that the disobedience which began from the serpent might have its undoing in the same way in which it arose” (St Justin). Note that salvation comes through but not by Mary. So when St Irenaeus says that “Mary, being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the entire human race” what he means is that she let God work and did not place an obstacle in his way, as Eve did (just as Christ humbled himself and did not think equality with God a booty to be seized, as Adam did; Philippians 2:5-11). She gave birth to the Saviour, so salvation is from her, as it is “from the Jews” (John 4:22).
    Christ the Redeemer comes to us first carried in his mother’s arms. An Italian friend, an Opus Dei theologian, remarked to me of Lutheran colleagues at a conference: “I pity them, because they don’t know their mother!” I asked some of them, and indeed they admitted that Marian devotion played no role for them; a pity, since Luther himself contributed greatly to Marian thinking, and it is said that some pope said, when reading Luther’s writing on the Magnificat without knowing the author’s name: “Blessed be the hand that wrote this book.”
    3. Mary has always had great mass appeal. Just as the people of Ephesus cried “Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” so at the Council of Ephesus in 4…, mmm (voice from the congregation: “431 AD!”), thank you, in 431 AD a threatening crowd let the bishops know that if they did not defend the Theotokos (God-bearer) they would suffer dire consequences. What a stange and wonderful place is Ephesus, where the ancient town still seems quite alive. It’s also the site of the house of Mary, identified on the basis of a German visionary, Catherine Emmerich, and which displayed when I visited a schmaltzy sign: “Mary invites you to celebrate her son’s 2000th birthday.” Diana looms behind Mary, and so do Isis and Ishtar (Astarte), awesome archetypes that we meet again in the goddesses of India or the bodhisattva Kannon (Guanyin) so popular in Japan and China. But this cult has to be restrained by recalling that Mary is not a myth but a human being, a Jewish woman of a certain time and place.
    Now we see a manifestation of Marian mass appeal in the renewed push for the “fifth dogma”—that is, after the Virgin Birth, the Theotokos, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption, a dogmatic definition of Mary’s status as Co-Redemptrix. Despite the motto, “never enough of Mary” (“de Maria numquam satis”), the Vatican has often strained against the pressure of popular devotion, in this case primarily in Mexico and the Philippines, though with precedent in an Amsterdam visionary whose movement had a prayer to her “who once was Mary”; the CDF insisted the wording changed to “the Blessed Virgin Mary,’ defending the anchorage of both Jesus and Mary in real history, and not in ballooning fantasy. There is so much lore around the Blessed Virgin, that it’s quite difficult to bring her into focus as a human being. But scholars are keenly conscious of the historical Jesus nowadays, and they are correspondingly attentive to the historical Mary as well.
    In the late middle ages the Co-Redemptrix title was promoted by Franciscans but rejected by Dominicans. St Bridget of Sweden (1373) claimed a vision in which Jesus said: “My Mother and I saved man as with one Heart only,” and Mary confirmed: “My Son and I redeemed the world with one heart.” Benedict XV made a similar remark in a text of 1918, but today the magisterium refrains from such extravagant expressions.
    What’s wrong with Co-Redemptrix? Well to begin with, it’s inopportune, it would be a way of thumbing our nose at Protestants who have suspected us of Mariological and papal idolatry for centuries and with whom we have built toward an ecumenical entente on both these themes. It also risks enflaming excesses of fanatical devotion is some circles.
    Further, it is ambiguous. In a sense we are all co-redeemers, in that we cooperated by free will in the process of our redemption and of the redemption of the worlds, “making up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24). So it’s not clear what the title would claim for Mary.
    Thirdly, if taken in the strongest sense, it borders on heresy. It is Christ, not Mary, who is “the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).
    4. To bring Mary into perspective in a helpful way, we need to restore her to the biblical horizon, seeing her as a daughter of Israel, interpreting her experience as the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. We also need to place her in ecclesial perspective, as Vatican II did in Lumen gentium and as the Church has done in its skilful management of Lourdes. Mary is glorified for the access she gives to Christ, but her glory is in radical subordination to the glory of the Messiah—“the glories of Mary for the sake of her Son” as a sermon of St John Henry Newman has it. When Jesus reveals his glory at Cana, he does not tell the stewards, “Do everything that she commands you,” but rather she tells them “Do everything that he commands you.” Her glory is that she is inseparable from Christ, but this entails that to separate her from Christ in an excess of devotion is to undermine that glory and to embark on troubled waters. She brings all the truths of faith into focus in the most illuminating way, but conversely these truths bring her into focus. Let them lead us to her, and let her lead us to them.

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