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DECEMBER 24, 2006: FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Readings: 

Micah 5:1-4a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

If Luke were writing this commentary, he'd certainly draw attention to the last line of his gospel pericope: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." It's the theme of his double-volume work. For Luke, the perfect disciple of Jesus is one who hears God's word and carries it out. In his first volume, Mary exemplifies that commitment. She's the person who consistently surfaces God's word in her life and courageously acts on it.

Notice how Elizabeth reflects on this characteristic of her kinswoman. Amazed at what one humble woman is able to accomplish, she proclaims, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

Luke frequently reminds his community that they must do more than just listen to God's word. Without knowing modern psychology, he's convinced lots of good-intentioned people think they're doing what God wants them to do by simply becoming experts on what would eventually become part of the Christian Scriptures. They hear the "Jesus stories," faithfully pass them on to others, but rarely change their behavior patterns because of them.

I participated in a workshop years ago in which we were asked to list five priorities in our life. When we finished, the presenter then told us to write next to the five the most recent date we had actually done that particular thing. Almost everyone was embarrassed. Though we thought these things were important, most of us hadn't done any of them for a long time - in some instances, we'd never done them at all! We thought it was enough simply to have them as priorities. Actually carrying them out would have been something we did for "extra credit."

Some early Christians had the same problem when it came to carrying out Jesus' words.

This seems to be why the author of Hebrews revolves today's second reading around the statement, "Behold, I come to do your will, O God!" Knowing how easy it is to get bogged down in the externals of religion, the writer quotes Psalm 40: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offering you took no delight in." No matter what, the only thing which counts in faith is carrying out God's word in our lives.

Christians who use our Micah quote as a proof-text for Jesus being the Messiah will miss the point the prophet's actually making. Addressing the glorious, mighty 8th century BCE Jerusalem kings, Micah reminds them of their beginnings. "You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me he who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is of old, from ancient days . . . . He will step forth and as a shepherd shall feed his flock in the strength of Yahweh . . . ."

Jewish royal leadership didn't start the way it was being exercised during Micah's ministry. Its origins go back to Samuel's 11th century surprise anointing of Jesse's shepherd son in Bethlehem - the boy no one thought "kingly." Those ancient, humble origins of power demonstrate that Yahweh's power can only work when the person through who Yahweh works is someone through whom no one thinks Yahweh can work.

David, like Mary, is regarded unlikely to carry out God's will.

Perhaps, during this glorious season of Christmas, God's asking us to cut through all the nonsense and look carefully at those around us who are actually listening to and carrying out God's word. It's a surefire way to force us to reflect on what God's word is telling us to do in our own lives - and how often we actually do it.