Dec 18, 2021: Weekdays of Advent from December 17 to 24

Introduction

The last eight days of Advent (December 17-24) are a time of intense preparation in anticipation of the birth of Christ. During this final stretch before Christmas, special readings are used for the weekday Masses, and the traditional “O Antiphons” are employed in the liturgy.

During these eight days, the Gospel readings cover all of Matthew Chapter 1 and Luke Chapter 1, sequentially; the first readings are selected thematically from various prophetic books of the Old Testament.

1st Reading – Jeremiah 23:5-8

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”

Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD,
when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”;
but rather, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the descendants of the house of Israel
up from the land of the north”– 
and from all the lands to which I banished them;
they shall again live on their own land.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah offers the people a promise of salvation while they are in exile in Babylon.

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,

The prophecy opens with a conventional eschatological look to the future: “the days are coming.”

“Says the LORD” is a staunch reminder that this message is not from Jeremiah himself; he is merely a messenger of God.

when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; 

Like his predecessors, Jeremiah predicts the restoration of the Davidic dynasty (see Isaiah 11:1).

The “righteous branch,” meaning the future king, will eventually become a technical term for the Messiah, in both Zechariah (Zechariah 3:8, 6:12) and the New Testament (Luke 1:78).

As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security.

This king will not be like the others, who failed both God and the people; he will rule with the justice of the Lord, fulfilling all kingly ideals.

Note how both kingdoms of Judah and Israel will share in the salvation being foretold.

This is the name they give him: “The LORD our justice.”

Even the very name of the future king will attest to his righteousness.

All this insistence on the king’s justice and righteousness shows Jeremiah’s insistence that the future Messiah will be David’s legal, legitimate descendant. In this new era, justice will reign and there will be peace and security; it will be a time of definitive salvation.

Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD,

A reiteration of the conventional prophetic structure (“the days are coming… says the LORD”), emphasizing the importance of the message.

when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives, who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”; but rather, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the descendants of the house of Israel up from the land of the north”– and from all the lands to which I banished them; they shall again live on their own land.

Jeremiah witnessed the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Israelites being carried off into exile by the Babylonians (“the land of the north”). This was perhaps the lowest point in Israel’s history.

Here, Jeremiah foretells that God will save them from this horrific exile. He is still their God and they are still his people.

This rescue will be so great a deed that it will outshine the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, which is a tremendous statement. The entire identity of the Jewish people and their God was based on the Exodus, and here Jeremiah says that will change. In the future, the people will base their identity on the fact that God saved them from exile in Babylon.

Life after their return from exile will be even more glorious than the period after the exodus from Egypt. This is a tectonic shift and an incredible message of hope!

Gospel – Matthew 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. 
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. 
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly. 
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. 
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her. 
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.” 
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.” 
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home. 
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

Today’s gospel reading is the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, a descendant of David and the messianic king that God promised in our first reading. The story is primarily christological — that is, it teaches about the identity of Jesus.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.

Matthew declares that this will be an account of Jesus’ birth; however, as we will see, it is really a description of his lineage, with comments on his conception and the early days of Mary’s pregnancy.

When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together,

According to Mosaic Law, engagement took place about a before marriage and enjoyed almost the same legal validity. From the moment of engagement, the man and woman were given the titles “husband” and “wife,” a certificate of divorce was required in the event of a break in the relationship, and any subsequent infidelity was considered adultery.

The marriage proper consisted in the bride being brought solemnly and joyously from her father’s house to her husband’s house (Deuteronomy 20:7), at which time the union was usually consummated. This was followed by a seven-day wedding feast (Genesis 29:27, Judges 14:12), after which the couple began to live together.

she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.

Matthew’s first lesson on Jesus’ identity: he was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Obviously discovering that an engaged woman is pregnant before consummating her marriage with her husband presents a huge problem. As we have already stated, Joseph and Mary were legally and morally bound to each other under the specific laws enumerated in the Deuteronomic Code (Deuteronomy 22:23-27). Any sexual contact between a betrothed woman and another man was equivalent to the sin of adultery and punishable by death for both the betrothed woman and her partner in sin (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18; Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22).

At this period in Jewish history, it’s unlikely that Mary would have actually been executed, as Mosaic Law prescribed, because under Roman occupation a man or woman could only be executed for violation of Roman law. However, her entire future is still at stake: If Joseph repudiated her, no other Jewish man would marry her and she would be ridiculed and shunned by the community.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

Joseph was faced with a dilemma. As a righteous man (díkais, which translates to “observer of the law”), what should he do? Joseph obviously knew that he was not the father of this child in the physical sense. Being an observant Jew, he could not marry someone who appeared to have so grossly violated the Law of Moses.

Jewish law did allow a man to divorce his wife (Deuteronomy 23:13-21; Mishnah Sotah 1.1, 5). Even in his heartbreak, he did not want to expose her to shame, so this was the course of action he chose.

Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream 

God illuminates the way for Joseph, who is faced with a situation that exceeds human understanding.

Scripture conveys many stories of divine revelations, either in dreams or through the mediation of heavenly messengers. Both means are employed here.

and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.

It is easy to understand that Joseph would be heartbroken and upset. But why would he be afraid?

In light of the Mosaic Law’s requirements of justice, it wouldn’t be honorable for him to assume the paternity of a child whom he knew wasn’t his. If the true paternity came to light, his failure to repudiate her could be seen as evidence of a disgraceful connivance on his part for her sin.

Acting out our commitment to God is a fearful thing, and it demands great trust in him.

For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.

The angel reveals the true origin of the child to Joseph and exonerates Mary of any impropriety.

Note how Matthew reiterates Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit. This is not intended to imply a trinitarian theology but is more concerned with pointing toward eschatological fulfillment. In Jewish prophetic theology, the Spirit of the Lord was believed to be the renewing force in the future messianic era. Here, at the dawning of that era, the power of the Spirit is manifested in an extraordinary way.

She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

According to the customs of the times, if a man named a child, he was declaring the child legally his. The angel’s command leaves no doubt in Joseph’s mind that he is to be the child’s legal human father.

The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh helps,” but in first-century Judaism was interpreted as “Yahweh saves.”

The angel makes a word-play on the name by stating “because he will save his people from their sins.” This subtle connection with the divine name Yahweh, and the child’s mission, will not become clear until later.

To a Jewish audience, it would have been surprising to hear that Jesus will save the people not from foreign domination, but from their sins.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

This is the first of Matthew’s ten “fulfillment” formula statements which begin “this was to fulfill …” and are followed by a quote from the Old Testament passage or by an allusion to a combination of several passages in one quotation. They show that everything God did in the Old Testament was part of his divine plan in preparation for the advent of the Messiah.

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, 

The sacred author quotes Isaiah 7:14 in the Greek Septuagint form. There the Hebrew almâ (a young woman of marriageable age) is translated to Greek as parthénos (virgin). Matthew and the Church, looking backward through the lens of the resurrection, see the birth of Christ from the Blessed Virgin Mary as the perfect fulfillment of this prophecy, which was foretold about seven hundred years prior.

and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

This is amazing news. The birth of Jesus, as described here, initiates the Messianic age of salvation to which the whole Old Testament looks forward, and Jesus makes the presence of God among his people a physical reality.

Matthew considered the “God-with-us” appellation so important that the very last sentence of his gospel is Jesus saying: Behold, I am with you always.

The Church holds that the physical reality of God’s presence continues in the Holy Eucharist and via the Holy Spirit.

“Every religion speaks of God or the gods. Many philosophies contain teachings about a supreme being or first cause. But the Bible alone indicates that God’s truest name and most distinctive quality is that he will be with us. In good times and bad, during periods of light and darkness, when we are rejoicing and grieving, God is stubbornly with us. Emmanuel.” —Bishop Robert Barron

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

In the gospels, the word awoke carries a greater meaning than simply to arise. In his rising, Joseph has experienced a deep inner awakening, similar to Peter’s healed mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15), the forgiven and cured paralytic (Matthew 9:5-7), the disciples at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:7), and the bridesmaids who wake to greet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:7).

Joseph does as instructed without question or delay. He is the obedient man of action whose every move is attentive to the will of God. Unlike King Ahaz in the first reading, Joseph trusts in God even when life is surprising and difficult — a choice that leads to joy and peace. Ahaz represents a life built on trusting things of the world — a choice that leads to anxiety and unfulfillment.

As we prepare for the coming of Christ into our own hearts and homes we can use Joseph as our model: We can become more and more obedient to God and become more and more loving in our relationships with one another.

He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

Following the Greek text strictly, the New Vulgate version says: “et non cognoscebat eam, donec peperit filium.” The literal translation to English is: “and he knew her not until she had borne a son.”

The Greek word donec (“until”) does not carry with it the implication that Joseph had relations with Mary sometime after she gave birth (nor does it exclude it). The same word is used in John 9:18 where it states that the Pharisees did not believe in the man blind from birth until (donec) they called his parents. They didn’t believe afterward either.

Thus with some anguish, Joseph abandoned his initial thought of quietly putting his betrothed Mary away, and the birth of Jesus became possible.

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