Dec 24, 2021: Morning Mass | 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 –  2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

When King David was settled in his palace,
and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side,
he said to Nathan the prophet,
“Here I am living in a house of cedar,
while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”
Nathan answered the king,
“Go, do whatever you have in mind,
for the LORD is with you.”
But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in?’

“It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old,
since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.
I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.”

Our first reading is from the history of King David’s royal court. It is pivotal in understanding the theology that surrounds David and the line of his descendants, as well as how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to his chosen people.

The passage consists of two sections: an account of David’s desire to construct a temple suitable for the God of Israel, and a description of the establishment of the Davidic dynasty — two independent episodes in the life of David that are joined in the scripture with a very clever turn of phrase.

When King David was settled in his palace, and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side,

From a political point of view, King David was the greatest king the Israelites ever had. He united the twelve tribes into one kingdom and established Jerusalem as both the political and cultic capital.

This narrative opens by describing a situation of good fortune and peace in Jerusalem. David has amassed enough wealth to build a palace for himself, and he is no longer threatened by enemies.

Note how the author makes it very clear that the peace he enjoys has come from God (“the Lord had given him rest”) and not from any victory of his own.

he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”

Nathan is the senior religious adviser of David’s court and the religious leader of his time.

King David realizes that the political and social progress he and his people have made has not carried over to their religious life. The ark of the covenant still dwells in a tent, as if it were the religious standard of a tribal god.

Nathan answered the king, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.”

As a prophet, Nathan is God’s spokesperson. He tells King David to proceed with his plans, assuring him that God approves.

But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: “Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: 

The Lord speaks to Nathan that night, expressing disapproval of the plan and offering another.

Should you build me a house to dwell in?

For pagan peoples, the temple was the center of their world and the focus of their religious spirit; it was there that they kept their gods. In Israel, however, the temple will have quite a different role.

The one true God transcends all things and has no need of an earthly house in which to dwell. If he allows there to be sanctuaries, shrines, desert tabernacles, and later, the temple of Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:1-66), these are only signs of his presence among the people, not a habitation that he in any sense needs.

Nathan’s prophecy here will show that it is not so much the temple as the Davidic dynasty that is the sign of divine presence and protection that God has established from the start.

It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. 

Recounting the history of David’s rise from lowly shepherd to king of Israel, God points out that any success that David enjoyed came directly from God. David has not been the architect of his own fate or the fate of the people, nor will he be in the future. God is in control.

And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. 

God will make David famous, God will give the people peace, and God does not need to be ensconced in a royal temple in order to accomplish this.

(A temple will eventually be constructed in Jerusalem, of course, but King Solomon was chosen for that task.)

The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm.

There is a startling turn of events here, centered on a kind of play on words. David sought to build a “house of God” (temple), but God turns the tables and promises to establish a “house of David” (royal dynasty). To understand why this is so surprising, we must remember that up until now, the succession of power in Israel was determined by divine appointment, not heredity. Previously, each king had been directly chosen by God. Both Saul and David were seized by the spirit and anointed by a prophet (1 Samuel 10:1, 6; 16:13), signs of divine approval.

What began as a discussion of the need for a temple has resulted in the establishment of a hereditary monarchy, and one with divine legitimacy. This new reality forms the center of Nathan’s entire prophetic career.

I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

This legitimization is confirmed when the king is accorded the title “son of God,” a technical phrase that characterizes the unique and intimate relationship between God and the monarch.

The person and rule of the king will symbolize the presence of God and the active role he plays in the life of the people.

Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.’”

The reading ends with a promise that the dynasty will endure forever before God. This promise provided stability to the monarchy, hope for the future, and the root of the messianic expectation of the rule of David.

The title “son of David” will come to refer not only to genealogical descent but also to the fact that the holder is the beneficiary of this promise and of the Davidic covenant (e.g., 1 Kings 8:25; Psalm 132:10-18; Jeremiah 17:24-27; Ezekiel 34:23-24; etc.).

After the exile, this is the title which is most often applied to the Messiah, and the writers of the New Testament, of course, are at pains to point out that Jesus is the “son of David” (Matthew 1:1, 9:27; Romans 1:3).

Gospel – Luke 1:67-79

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
for he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hand of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Today’s gospel reading is the famous Canticle of Zechariah, called the Benedictus. The prayer’s name is derived from its first words in Latin (Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”).

The Benedictus has two distinct parts: in the first, Zechariah thanks God for sending the Messiah as he promised the patriarchs and prophets of Israel. In the second, he prophesies that his son, John the Baptist, will have the mission of being herald of the Most High and precursor of the Messiah, proclaiming God’s mercy which reveals itself in the coming of Christ.

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:

Luke 1:6 tells us that Zechariah was a righteous man. He receives the special grace of prophecy when his son is born, a gift which led him to pronounce his famous canticle of praise. This prayer, the Benedictus, is so full of faith, reverence, and piety that the Church has laid it down to be said daily in the Liturgy of Hours.

Prophecy has not only to do with foretelling future events; it also means being moved by the Holy Spirit to praise God. Both aspects of prophecy are found in the Benedictus.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,

To put the messianic hopes of the Israelites into context, they had been waiting four hundred years for this promised savior to appear.

born of the house of his servant David.

This fulfills the promise made to King David in 2 Samuel 7.

Through his prophets he promised of old that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us. He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant. This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hand of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.

Again and again, God promised the Old Testament patriarchs that he would take special care of Israel, giving them a land which they would enjoy undisturbed and many descendants in whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed.

God ratified this promise by means of a covenant or alliance, which were commonly made between kings and their vassals in the Near East. God, as Lord, would protect the patriarchs and their descendants; his people would prove their attachment to him by offering him certain sacrifices and by doing him service. For example, see Genesis 12:13, 17:1-8, and 22:16-18 for God’s promise, covenant, and pledge to Abraham, and Genesis 35:11-12 where God repeats these promises to Jacob.

Zechariah realizes that the events resulting from the birth of his son, John, the precursor of the Messiah, constitute complete fulfillment of these divine promises.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

John the Baptist did indeed prepare the Israelites for the coming of Jesus, preaching repentance and reformation, and declaring that “one mightier than I is coming” (Luke 3:16). Jesus launched his earthly ministry only after John’s had concluded (Matthew 5:12-17).

In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The “dawn from on high” is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, coming down from heaven to shed his light upon us. This is reminiscent of Malachi’s prophecy: “For you who fear my name, the sun of justice will arise with its healing rays” (Malachi 3:20).

In the Old Testament, we were told about the glory of the Lord, the reflection of God’s presence, which was intimately connected with light. For example, when Moses returned to the encampment after talking with God, his face so shone that the Israelites were afraid to go near him (Exodus 34:30). Saint John makes the same reference when he says that “God is light and in him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5).

God’s divine light reaches us here on earth through Jesus Christ who, because he is God, is “the true light that enlightens every man” (John 1:9). Christ himself tells us: “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12).

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