Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle C    

First Reading
Micah 5:1-4
The ruler of Israel is promised to come from Bethlehem.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19
A prayer for God’s salvation

Second Reading
Hebrews 10:5-10
Through his obedience to God’s will, Christ consecrated all.

Gospel Reading
Luke 1:39-45
Mary visits Elizabeth, who sings praise to Mary and her child.

Background on the Gospel Reading

On this the last Sunday before Christmas, our Gospel reading prepares us to witness Christ’s birth by showing us how Jesus was recognized as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah even before his birth. The Gospel turns our attention from the ministry of John the Baptist to the events that preceded John the Baptist’s birth. The story of John the Baptist and his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, are reported only in Luke’s Gospel. Luke pairs the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus, establishing John’s early connection to the Messiah.

Our Gospel reading recalls Mary’s actions after the announcement of Jesus’ birth by the angel Gabriel. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin, who is also with child. Elizabeth greets Mary with full recognition of the roles that they and their unborn children will play in God’s plan for salvation. If we were to continue to read the verses that follow in Luke’s Gospel, we would hear Mary respond to Elizabeth’s greeting with her song of praise, the Magnificat. Both women recall and echo God’s history of showing favor upon the people of Israel.

In Luke’s Gospel the Holy Spirit helps reveal Jesus’ identity as God to those who believe. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and sings Mary’s praise because she bears the Lord. We sing these words of praise to Mary in the Hail Mary. Even John the Baptist, the unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb, is said to recognize the presence of the Lord and leaps for joy.

It is appropriate in this season of Advent that we consider the role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation. Elizabeth describes Mary as the first disciple, as the one who believed that God’s word to her would be fulfilled. Mary’s faith enabled her to recognize the work of God in her people’s history and in her own life. Her openness to God allowed God to work through her so that salvation might come to everyone. Because of this, Mary is a model and symbol of the Church. May we be like Mary, open and cooperative in God’s plan for salvation.-loyolapress.com

SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

Today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast celebrates God’s choice of Mary to be the mother of Jesus. God preserved Mary from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. Thus, Mary was the first to receive the benefit of the redemption that her Son would merit for all.

To reflect upon this mystery, the Gospel reading for today presents to us the story of the Annunciation. It is through her exchange with the angel Gabriel that Luke, the Evangelist, introduces the person of Mary. The Annunciation begins in the context of Luke’s account of the birth of John the Baptist. “In the sixth month,” referring to Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel appears to a virgin of Nazareth—Mary. Indeed, there are many parallels in Luke’s accounts of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.

In this passage, Luke tells us much about Mary and the child she is to bear. We learn that Mary is a virgin from Nazareth who is betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was of the house of David. The angel greets Mary in the most glowing of terms, acknowledging the favor she has found with God. The son Mary is to conceive is described in messianic terms. He will be called “Son of the Most High” and the “Son of God.”

Mary is bold in her exchange with the angel. She is troubled by his greeting and questions the message, asking “How am I to bear a son if I have no relations with a man?” Mary is told that she will conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit and is offered a sign in the miraculous pregnancy of her elder cousin Elizabeth.

Mary’s affirmative response to this seemingly impossible message gives evidence to the grace we know that she possesses from God. Only one who is “full of grace” can be so receptive to and cooperative with the will of God. Because of this, Mary is the model of discipleship for all Christians.- loyolapress.com

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