4th Week of Advent
1) Opening prayer
Lord, loving and mighty God,
you fulfilled your promise to save us
when Jesus, your Son, became one of us.
We are no longer in the dark,
for you let your light shine on us.
Bring us your salvation now,
set us really free from our sins,
let us become fully human with Jesus
and go with him in your way of peace and love.
Let him be our strength,
our constant companion on the road,
that through him and growing in his humanity,
we may be your beloved sons and daughters.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel reading - Luke 1,57-66
The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had lavished on her his faithful love, they shared her joy.
Now it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. 'No,' she said, 'he is to be called John.' They said to her, 'But no one in your family has that name,' and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, 'His name is John.' And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God.
All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. 'What will this child turn out to be?' they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
• In chapters 1 and 2 of his Gospel, Luke describes the announcement of the birth of two little ones, John and Jesus, who will occupy a very important place in the realization of God’s project. What God begins in the Old Testament, begins to be realized through them. This is why, in these two chapters, Luke presents or recalls many facts and persons of the Old Testament and even succeeds in imitating the style of the Old Testament. And all this in order to suggest that with the birth of these two little boys history completes a round of 180 degrees and the time of the fulfilment of the promises of God begins through John and Jesus, and with the collaboration of their parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah and Mary and Joseph.
• There is a certain parallelism between the announcement and the birth of both children:
a) The announcement of the birth of John (Lk 1, 5-25) and of Jesus (Lk 1, 26-38)
b) The two mothers who are pregnant meet and experience the presence of God (Lk 1, 27-56)
c) The birth of John (Lk 1, 57-58) and of Jesus (Lk 2, 1-20)
d) The circumcision in the community of John (Lk 1, 59-66) and of Jesus (Lk 2, 21-28)
e) The canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1, 67-79) and the canticle of Simeon with the prophecy of Anna (Lk 2, 29-32)
f) The hidden life of John (Lk 1, 80) and of Jesus (Lk 2, 39-52)
• Luke 1, 57-58: Birth of John the Baptist. “The time came for Elizabeth to have her child and she gave birth to a son. When her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had lavished on her his faithful love, they shared her joy”. Like so many women of the Old Testament Elizabeth was sterile: Just like God had pity on Sarah (Gn 16, 1; 17, 17; 18, 12), on Rachel (Gn 29, 31) and on Anna (1 Sm 1, 2.6.11) transforming the sterility into fecundity, in the same way he had pity on Elizabeth and she conceived a son. Elizabeth hid herself during five months. When after, the five months, people could see in her body God’s goodness toward Elizabeth, all rejoiced with her. This community environment, in which all got involved in the life of others, both in joy as in sorrow, is the environment in which John and Jesus are born, grew and received their formation. Such an environment marks the personality of a person for the whole life; and it is precisely this community environment that we lack most today.
• Luke 1, 59: To give the name on the eighth day. “On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child and they wanted to call him Zechariah as his father”. The involvement of the community in the life of the family of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John is such that the relatives and neighbours even want to interfere in the choice of the name of the child. They want to give the child the name of his father: Zechariah!” Zechariah means: God has remembered. Perhaps they wanted to express their gratitude to God for having remembered Elizabeth and Zechariah and for having given them a son in their old age.
• Luke 1, 60-63: His name is John! Elizabeth intervenes and she does not permit the relatives to take care of the question of the name. Recalling the announcement of the name made by the angel to Zechariah (Lk 1, 13), Elizabeth says: "No! He will be called John”. In a very small place such as Ain Karem, in Judah, the social control is very strong. And when a person gets out of the normal usage of the place, she is criticized. Elizabeth does not follow the usage of the place and chooses a name outside the normal models. This is why the relatives and neighbours complain saying: “No one in your family has that name!” The relatives do not easily give in and make signs to the father to know from him what name he wants for his son. Zechariah asks for a writing tablet and writes: "His name is John”. All remained astonished because they must have perceived something of the mystery of God which surrounds the birth of the little child.
And this perception which people have of the mystery of God present in the common facts of life, Luke wants to communicate it to us, his readers. In his way of describing the events, Luke is not like a photographer who only registers what the eyes can see. He is like a person who uses the X-Ray which registers what the human eye cannot see. Luke reads the facts with the X-Rays of faith which reveals what the human eye cannot perceive.
• Luke 1, 64-66: The news of the child is diffused. “All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judah. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts: What will this child turn out to be? They wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him”. The way in which Luke describes the facts recalls the circumstances of the birth of the persons who in the Old Testament had an important role in the realization of God’s project and whose childhood seemed already to be marked by the privileged destiny which they would have: Moses (Ex 2, 1-10), Samson (Jg 13, 1-4 and 13, 24-25), Samuel (1 Sm 1, 13-28 and 2, 11).
• In the writings of Luke we find many references to the Old Testament. In fact, the first two chapters of his Gospel are not stories in the sense which we, today, give to the story. They are rather, a mirror to help the readers to discover that John and Jesus came to fulfil the prophecies of the Old Testament. Luke wants to show that God, through the two children, came to respond to the most profound aspirations of the human heart. On the one side, Luke shows that the New Testament realizes what the Old Testament prefigured. On the other, it shows that the New one exceeds the Old one and does not correspond in everything to what the people of the Old Testament imagined and expected. In the attitude of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Mary and Joseph, Luke represents a model of how to convert oneself to believe in the New one which is being reached.
4) Personal questions
• What has struck you most in the way in which Luke describes the facts of life?
• How do I read the facts of my life? Like a photo or like an X-Ray?
5) Concluding prayer
Kindness unfailing and constancy mark all Yahweh's paths,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Only those who fear Yahweh have his secret
and his covenant, for their understanding. (Sal 25,10.14)