Daniel J. Harrington
Fourth Sunday of Advent (C), Dec. 24, 2006
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45)

Fidelity involves belief in something and trust in someone. Many people today find it difficult to be faithful to anyone or anything. One cannot be faithful in a moral and personal vacuum. Those who live for the moment cannot understand the biblical concept of fidelity, which is first and foremost fidelity to God and God’s word.

 

Fidelity involves living out of a great narrative and being part of a great tradition. That narrative is the history of our salvation as presented in the Scriptures, and that tradition is what stretches from the Scriptures to the present. In them we have many examples of God’s fidelity to his people and of men and women who have shown themselves to be faithful to God.

The Old Testament reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is from Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah (late eighth to early seventh century B.C.). Micah presents God’s promise of a descendant of David (to be born in the area of Bethlehem), who would shepherd his people and whose greatness would reach to the ends of the earth. From earliest times (see Matt 2:6) Christians have believed that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus. Psalm 80 echoes God’s promise of a shepherd-king like David and prays that God’s help will be with “the man of your right hand.” In the Bible, fidelity is a two-way street. The biblical writers do not hesitate to hold God accountable for carrying out his promises.

In the reading from Hebrews 10 the author places the words of Psalm 40:5-7 in the mouth of Jesus “when he came into the world” (incarnation) as a statement of his vocation and of the superiority of his sacrifice (death on the cross) over those offered under the Law of Moses. Jesus’ fidelity to his heavenly Father is expressed by attributing to him the words of Psalm 40, “Behold, I come to do your will.”

Luke, who is fond of personal examples, portrays Mary, one of the great Advent figures, as a model of fidelity to God and to God’s word. Today’s selection narrates the episode of the Visitation. Mary, having responded positively to God’s call for her to become the mother of the Messiah, visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is soon to be the mother of John the Baptist. While acknowledging the superior status of Mary’s son and of Mary herself as the “mother of my Lord,” Elizabeth characterizes Mary’s greatness in terms of her fidelity: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

The origin of Mary’s fidelity was God’s word that she would become mother of the Messiah. Mary trusted that the God of Israel would make it possible for her to carry out her commission and through her Son to be a pivotal instrument in God’s plan for a new and better relationship with humankind. Mary was faithful to someone (God) and to something (God’s word). For that she is rightly called “blessed.”

 

Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., is professor of New Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.

Readings: 
Readings: Mic 5:1-4; Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Heb 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Prayer: 

• To whom and to what do you try to be especially faithful? Why? Do you succeed?

• By what right do Christians interpret Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah as fulfilled in Jesus?

• Imagine yourself in Mary’s place throughout Luke’s infancy narrative. How might you have reacted at various points?