The End of Advent and the Ark of the Covenant

User’s Guide to the Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Fourth Sunday completes Advent.
The Fourth Sunday completes Advent. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Dec. 24, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Mass readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.

In today’s Gospel, we step back nine months to March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, an event all but hidden but that changed the world. God’s presence, which departed the Temple just prior to the Babylonian invasion (Ezekiel 10:18) and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, now returns to the Ark of Mary’s womb. The glorious presence of God returns now to his people in an obscure town of fewer than 300, a town so small that no road led to it. Let’s look at four aspects of this Gospel.

The text says, “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth …”

St. Gabriel adds, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”

Mary says “Yes” to what she hears as a request, not merely a statement of what shall be.

In this regard, we see an important indicator of the respect God has for her freedom. Surely he has prepared her and equipped her with every good grace to say “Yes,” but in the end, her freely offered “Yes” is significant. God wills to come through Mary (Genesis 3:15) and seeks her “Yes” in the place of Eve’s “No.”

See here how God’s respect is in direct contrast to the behavior of the devil, who provokes, shouts and intrudes; he tempts and provokes us. In contrast, God whispers and respectfully invites. He summons us in love and patiently awaits our answer.

Gabriel the Archangel also says, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you …”

Mary is sinless by being “full of grace,” for, being filled with grace, there is no room in her for sin. The Greek word (kecharitomene), translated properly as “full of grace,” is a perfect, passive participle indicating an action completed (perfected) in the past, still operative now, and continuing onward.

Thus Mary is sinless — she is given this grace by God to be the uncorrupted ark of his dwelling.

Mary’s question is mysterious: “How will this be since I do not know man?”

She seems to expect that she will “not know man” and remain a virgin. The Protoevangelium of James, an ancient and well-known biography of the Holy Family, gives the backstory to Mary’s expectation that is too lengthy to recount here.

It also helps explain why the Church teaches, without ambiguity, that Mary is ever-virgin.

St. Gabriel instructs, “Do not be afraid, Mary …” In effect, Gabriel says to her that, however the details unfold, she is to bear the Son of the Most High God, who will have a Kingdom that will never be conquered. Hence, whatever her concerns, this all leads to victory. Mary will need this reassurance, for there are some difficult days ahead: the crisis of homelessness at Jesus’ birth, the Flight to Egypt, and surely the cross. This knowledge of ultimate victory is an important reassurance for her to hold close — and a beautiful reminder for the faithful at Christmas.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at West Allis Central High School on July 23 in West Allis, Wisconsin.

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