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Fourth Sunday in Advent

Readings: Mic. 5:2–5a, Heb. 10:5–10 & Lk. 1:39–45

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, and prophesied during the late 8th century BCE. He prophesied at a time when the kingdom of Judah, and its capital Jerusalem, lived under the threat of invasion by the Assyrian Empire.

In our first reading this morning, Micah delivers a prophecy about the Jewish Messiah. He will come from the town of Bethlehem, which was of course the town where King David was from, and his origin will be “from of old, from ancient days”. This is yet another reference to David, because the phrase “ancient days” refers to Israel’s early history, which includes the time of King David.

And just as David was a shepherd, so Micah describes the Messiah also as a shepherd; a shepherd who will protect and provide for his flock, with the backing and support of God Himself. And Micah tells the people of Israel that a time is coming, unlike their own day, when they will no longer be threatened by powerful, hostile nations, such as Assyria.

Micah’s prophecy about the Messiah is of course fulfilled with the birth of Jesus. We know this because, in the Gospel of Luke, Mary the mother of Jesus gives birth to him in the town of Bethlehem, and the genealogy of Jesus tells us that Joseph (the father who raises Jesus as his own son) is descended from King David.

Another thing we learn from the Gospel of Luke is that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins. Our reading this morning describes the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, who is heavily pregnant with her son (John the Baptist). Luke tells us that when Elizabeth is greeted by Mary, her unborn son leaps in her womb, an action that releases within her a power of prophecy. And then prompted by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth announces a series of blessings on Mary. One of these is a blessing on Mary for her faith, because Mary believed, without question, that what the angel Gabriel had told her about her own pregnancy would come to pass. Mary’s faith is perhaps only rivalled in the Bible by the faith of Abraham who, on God’s word, leaves his own country behind and sets off on a journey to an as yet undisclosed destination, and who is also prepared to offer his only son to God, as a form of sacrifice. 

Which is a nice segue into our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. In this passage the author tells us that we, by the grace of God, have been cleansed of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. Unlike the offerings for sin, which were made on behalf of the people by the High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, and which needed to be repeated each year, so that the people would be purified of their sins, the offering of Jesus does not need to be repeated in order for subsequent generations to be cleansed of their sins. The effect of the sacrifice of Jesus is lasting. The passage tells us that the need for ongoing sacrifices for sin, as prescribed by Jewish law, has been abolished by the “perfect and sufficient” sacrifice of Jesus.

Our readings this morning are a good reminder to us of the importance, and relevance, of the Old Testament to the Bible as a whole. I like to refer to the Bible as a ‘record of the history of God’s relationship with humankind’. That history began with the Book of Genesis, and continued right on through the Old Testament, telling the story of God’s relationship with His chosen people, the people of Israel. The Old Testament, which is also known as the Hebrew Bible, is a collection of sacred Jewish Scriptures. 

We can’t forget the fact that Jesus was a Jew. And as the various books and letters of the New Testament tell us: Jesus was the Messiah. He was the fulfilment of the Jewish scriptures. Those same scriptures which told us that God would return to reconcile Himself to humankind. An action that has taken place through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

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