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Fourth Sunday of Advent (A)

Jesus is born of Mary who was betrothed to Joseph, son of David

The Word This Week

Here we enter a new stage of Advent: having spent so much time on the Second Coming, now we look back, to remember the details of the Lord’s First Coming. Today we focus on the characters of Mary and Joseph, and hear of the circumstances surrounding the conception of the child Jesus, and the reaction of Joseph. This mystery springs from the House of David, and so we lead into the Gospel by hearing of the promise that the Messiah would come from that line. The link between the First Reading and the Gospel is quite explicit today, since Matthew actually quotes Isaiah. Joseph, descendant of King David, is invited to take his place in the great story of God’s relationship with the Chosen people. There is great sense of a timeless mystery reaching its focal point, as that which was “promised long ago” (Second Reading) now takes flesh in the womb of Mary.

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14

Sometimes there is a comforting familiarity about the Word of God – a sort of “Oh yes, I know what this one’s all about” feeling! Today is an ideal example: we know that Christmas is only a breath away, and we hear the prophecy of Isaiah to Ahaz, and immediately “fill in the gaps” and interpret the prophecy correctly. While this takes some of the pressure off the reader, you still have to deliver the message clearly! Ahaz is not a nice character (he was reputed to have sacrificed his son in a pagan ritual, and dismantled the Temple of the Lord in favour of worship of a foreign god in Damascus) When he says “I will not put the Lord to the test” it’s not a virtuous statement (which is how it can sound to us) – basically he’s saying he doesn’t need God for anything, which is why Isaiah is angry with him. Once you’ve got over this awkward paragraph the rest should be plain sailing.


Second Reading: Romans 1:1-7

Why do we read this today? (This is always a good question to ask about a reading, especially in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter). Paul begins his letter to the Christians in Rome with the core of his message – what is at the centre of all that he is going to say: “This news is about the Son of God…” Saint Paul never describes the Nativity, but in this short passage we have his understanding of the significance of the birth of Jesus to Mary – he is the “…Good News that God promised long ago through his prophets in the scriptures.” (See the First Reading!) Those who are listening to this reading in Church may lack these insights, and so you have to emphasise the right phrases to help them follow what Saint Paul is saying, and what it has to do with the Fourth Sunday of Advent. In the first lines, aim for “…promised long ago” and make sure that you are thinking about the First Reading when you say this. The second paragraph is a lot harder – it moves from the birth of Jesus (“…according to the human nature he took…”) all the way through the Resurrection to the preaching that Paul is engaged in – taking the Good News of long ago to new peoples and nations (such as the “pagans” in Rome).



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