Sunday Sermon for December 19, 2010, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings: Is 7:10-14; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24

One might wonder why we have readings that speak of the birth of our Lord when we do not celebrate His nativity for another week and why we have a reading that speaks of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead during Advent. The answer to the first part of this query might seem self evident because the Gospel reading actually quotes verbatim the prophecy contained in the first reading. Of course, the intent of the first reading is to demonstrate that God had foretold the birth of His Son from a virgin some seven hundred years before the event occurred.

While this is certainly true, I think the purpose of these texts is deeper than just showing how the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. The passages from Isaiah and Matthew demonstrate the humanity of our Lord while the reference in the second reading to the resurrection demonstrates the divinity of Jesus. St. Paul even makes the points explicit when he reminds us that our Lord’s humanity was descended from David, as promised one thousand years earlier by God, while He is established as the Son of God in power through the resurrection from the dead.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, the truth regarding the twofold nature of Jesus as both God and man is being established concretely. This becomes important because there are some who deny that Jesus was God while He was in the womb of our Lady. Some will say He became God just after He was born, other say that He became God when He was baptized and still others suggest that it was only on the Cross that he was adopted by God as His Son. All of these ideas are heresies that are condemned by the Church.

That Jesus is God while in the womb is made clear in the Gospel where St. Joseph is told that the Child in our Lady’s womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that He will be called Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is God from all eternity and the Son of God took to Himself a human nature which He received from His Mother. God became man in Jesus; a man did not become God.

This truth regarding our Lord also brings us face to face with the mystery of our redemption. The Angel reveals the holy Name of Jesus to St. Joseph and tells him that Jesus will save His people from their sins. The Name “Jesus” or “Yeshua” means “a savior of the people.” If Jesus is not God our faith is in vain; if He is not man, we are not saved.

In the second reading St. Paul tells us that it is through Jesus that he had received the grace of apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith. This apostleship implies being sent out to preach the truth about our Lord and about our salvation. However, if St. Paul is to bring about the obedience of faith, it certainly suggests more than just a belief that Jesus is both God and man. In fact, the obedience connotes the need to put into practice what we believe.

Perhaps the most important thing that we need to take away from the readings today is not only that the baby Whose birth we are soon to celebrate is God, but to see the extremes that God goes to demonstrate His love for us. In the readings today we hear about the birth and the death of our Lord. He humbled Himself to take our nature to Himself in order to save us, but that salvation was not accomplished until He died and rose from the dead. Neither birth nor death was possible for the Son of God without a human nature which allowed for both. Taking our humanity to Himself allowed the Second Person of the Trinity to express the love of God in a human manner so that we could understand and accept.

St. Paul’s life was turned around by his acceptance of the truth that Jesus is both Lord and Savior, both God and man. Like him, we are called to bring the truth about Jesus to others. We may not have to travel and preach as St. Paul did, but we all know people who need to hear the message of hope, joy and salvation. During this next week, think of someone who needs Jesus and consider inviting that person to join you for Mass on Christmas Day. Your words will demonstrate your faith and your actions will demonstrate your obedience of faith and, through your example and through the mystery celebrated at Mass, perhaps the person you invite will also be touched by the truth of Jesus, will come to understand and accept God’s love and will embrace and live the obedience of faith.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit