Sunday Sermon for December 22, 2013, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings: Is 7:10-14; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24
In the second reading today St. Paul speaks of Jesus as being descended from David according to the flesh. While professing Him also to be God, a point proven by the resurrection, St. Paul wants to put his focus on the promises God had made to the people of Israel. There are a number of those promises which establish the human lineage of the Messiah.

The first promise is in the Book of Genesis right after our first parents had sinned. So this demonstrates merely that the Messiah will be of the human race as the offspring of Adam and Eve. Then there is a promise to Abraham which is further delineated in the blessing given to Judah, the fourth born son of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. Finally, a promise was made to David, thereby narrowing the focus of line of Judah.

There are several points which add a few further qualifications regarding the human origins of our Lord. While not saying anything further about the family line, we know from Genesis that a male child would be born of a woman. While there are other passages we could mention, the most important one is found in the first reading today where the Lord Himself specifies a sign of a virgin giving birth to the Messiah.

Mention should be made about this sign, that the word used in Hebrew ordinarily would be translated as “young woman.” It can have the connotation of a virgin, but normally the word is interpreted more broadly. However, it would not be much of a sign for a young woman to give birth since that happens regularly. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, we see how the Rabbis understood this prophecy because they used with word for virgin, not the word for young woman.

This is why St. Matthew, as we hear in the Gospel reading today, can tell us that our Lady’s acceptance of the Angel’s invitation to be the Mother of God fulfilled the prophecy spoken of a moment ago. With the specifics about the woman firmly in place, we need to see how the Child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, can be called a son of David.

The Angel appears to St. Joseph in a dream, as we hear in the Gospel, and refers to him as Joseph, son of David. When Joseph did as the Angel directed him and brought Mary into his home, by law the Child in her womb became legally his child as well. So, legally, the Son of God and the Son of Mary became the Son of David. So, He was human, He was Hebrew, He was from the Tribe of Judah, and He was from the line of David.

All of this is well and good, but what is the purpose? As we have seen, as soon as our first parents had fallen, God promised a Savior who would redeem Adam and Eve, and their offspring from their sins. The Angel tells St. Joseph that he is to name the Child Jesus, because He would save the people from their sins. Jesus, Joshua in Hebrew, means a Savior of the people.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, we need to reflect upon the extraordinary realities that are occurring. Not so much in all of the prophecies we have just considered. These are necessary so that we will know the One God has sent. What we need to consider is the love and the humility of our Lord. He Who is God from all eternity would lower Himself to become one of us in order to have the means (body, blood and soul) to save us. Even in His humanness, He loves us so much that He would sacrifice Himself even to the point of death for us.

It may seem out of place to think about His death when we are preparing to celebrate His birth, but the reason He was born was so that He could die. As God He could not die, so He had to take to Himself a nature that would allow Him to die.

We also need to reflect upon the love of our Lady and St. Joseph. Obviously, without them none of this could have happened and we would not be saved. Our Lady’s fiat to the Angel’s invitation was not a normal couple in love cooperating with God to conceive. Our Lady knew that the purpose of the Messiah was to die. She said yes to being the Mother of God, the Mother of a Child Who was conceived so that He could die. St. Joseph said yes to the same mystery. We, too, need that same faith to say yes to accept the Messiah and be saved from our sins.

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