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Sunday, December 21, 2008

4th Sunday of Advent Gospel Reflection

What is announced to Mary in today’s Gospel is the revelation of all that the prophets had spoken. It is, as Paul declares in today’s Epistle, the mystery kept secret since before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1:9; 3:3-9).

Mary is the virgin prophesied to bear a son of the house of David (see Isaiah 7:13-14). And nearly every word the angel speaks to her today evokes and echoes the long history of salvation recorded in the Bible.

Mary is hailed as the daughter Jerusalem, called to rejoice that her king, the Lord God, has come into her midst as a mighty savior (see Zephaniah 3:14-17).

The One whom Mary is to bear will be Son of “the Most High” - an ancient divine title first used to describe the God of the priest-king Melchizedek, who brought out bread and wine to bless Abraham at the dawn of salvation history (see Genesis 14:18-19).

He will fulfill the covenant God makes with His chosen one, David, in today’s First Reading. As we sing in today’s Psalm, He will reign forever as highest of the kings of the earth, and He will call God, “my Father.” As Daniel saw the Most High grant everlasting dominion to the Son of Man (see Daniel 4:14; 7:14), His kingdom will have no end.

He is to rule over the house of Jacob - the title God used in making His covenant with Israel at Sinai (see Exodus 19:3), and again used in promising that all nations would worship the God of Jacob (see Isaiah 2:1-5).

Jesus has been made known, Paul says today, to bring all nations to the obedience of faith. We are called with Mary today, to marvel at all that the Lord has done throughout the ages for our salvation. And we too, must respond to this annunciation with humble obedience - that His will be done, that our lives be lived according to His word.

The Angel and Mary

In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the angel Gabriel greets Mary in an unusual way: “Hail, favored one” (see Luke 1:28).

Kecharitomene, the Greek word translated as “favored one,” is very rare, used in only one other place in the New Testament. It comes from charis, the Greek word for “grace” and basically means “made full of grace” or “transformed by grace.”

This is how the word is used in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he describes how God “granted” His grace to all of us in Jesus (see Ephesians 1:6-7). This sheds light on what the angel means - Mary has been “transformed by God’s grace.”

Notice that the angel doesn’t mention Mary’s name. That’s odd, too. There’s no other angelic greeting like this in Scripture. It’s as if Mary’s name is “favored one” or “made full of grace.”

In Scripture, when God gives a person a new name, it reveals the person’s role in His saving plan. Think of Abraham - the father of all nations (see Genesis 17:5), or Peter, the Church’s “rock” (see Matthew 16:18). Mary is God’s favored one, transformed by God’s grace to be the sinless mother of His only-begotten Son.

That’s why the angel’s greeting is one of the biblical foundations for Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate December 8. Listen closely to the Mass readings that day - you’ll hear the angel’s greeting, and Paul’s beautiful words about God’s transforming grace.

Check out the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology for more great reflections.

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