Cross and Anchors statue in foreground with snow covered campus

December 19, 2021

Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent
By Rev. Russell McDougall, C.S.C.

 

Today’s Scriptures offer a window into the hearts of the people of Israel, revealing what their hopes were for their nation when the promised Messiah would come–hopes that may surprise us in their specificity and concreteness.

When the survival of Israel and Judah was threatened by the mighty Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BCE, the prophet Micah shared the hope that God would raise up a ruler from the house of David who would “take his place as shepherd by the strength of the Lord” (5:3) and “deliver us from Assyria” (5:5). Even more, this descendant of David would allow the people of Israel to take its place “among the nations like a lion among the beasts of the forest” (5:7). The hoped-for ruler would not only defeat the oppressive enemy but would allow Israel to take its place as the dominant power.

When Elizabeth greets Mary in words that are long familiar to us who pray the Rosary (“Blessed are you among women”), she echoes the praise given to two other women whose deeds contributed to Israel’s deliverance from its enemies. In her song of praise, the prophet Deborah lauds Jael as “most blessed among women” after Jael had sealed Israel’s victory over a Canaanite army by hammering a tent-peg into the skull of Sisera, its commander, as he slept (Judges 5:24). Similarly, Uzziah praises Judith as “blessed above all the women on earth” for having beheaded Holofernes, a commander of the Assyrian army, as he lay drunk in bed (Judith 13:18). Such exploits are not exactly the stuff of children’s bedtime stories. Even so, don’t we find ourselves cheering on these bold women who help realize their people’s aspiration to be free from oppression?

The Messiah whom God eventually sent, however, failed to realize such dreams of victory-through-violence. Instead, Jesus was himself pierced with nails and spear, and prayed to his Father to forgive the enemy soldiers who were crucifying him. Jesus understood that his Father desired, not the destruction of enemies, but their conversion. The Messiah would indeed “be peace,” as Micah intimated (5:4), but a peace achieved through patient reconciliation rather than through crushing defeat.

Our own nation seems divided today into enemy camps, each of which seeks to inflict a crushing defeat on the other, rather than seek reconciliation. How might we, as a Christian community living in a house divided, offer the way of Jesus as the way forward, the way that will lead to life?

To read today's readings and all readings this Advent Season, please visit https://bible.usccb.org/.