4th Sunday of Advent – Year A

Sources used: 
- St. Charles Borromeo Bible Study for 4th Sunday Advent Year A
- This Is How the Birth of Jesus Christ Came About  by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
- Emmanuel: the Plea and the Promise by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
- History is Going Somewhere, and it Rhymes by Bishop Robert Barron
- Formed's Opening the Word Series


Overall Message

  • HOPE = This Sunday could be called the “Sunday of births!” – in each reading a birth is spoken of… bringing a child into the world is always an act of hope. The Gospel has something essential to offer our people in this moment of history: Hope with a capital “H,” the theological virtue that has God himself as its author and guarantee ~ by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
  • TIME = History is a kind of narrative or story told by an author who loves to rhyme and gives hints to what will happen later.
  • From Isaiah… We might give up on God, but He never gives up on us!


Isaiah 7:10-14

  • Isaiah is warning Ahaz, king of Judah, to not submit as vassal to Assyrians, whereas Ahaz’s advisors urge him to give in. When Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign to prove that Isaiah’s message is from God, the Lord gives him a prophecy that will, in the future, confirm the truth of what Isaiah had spoken.
  • “Virgin” = ‘almah. May also be translated as “young woman”.
  • Since the oracles of prophets were fulfilled within the lifetime of the hearer to give credibility within his community, Isaiah may be referring to the young Hezekiah in whose birth Judah would see the continuing presence of God among His people and another renewal of the promise made to David. Hezekiah’s mother, at the time Isaiah spoke, would have been an almah.
  • Nevertheless, the solemnity of the oracle and the name Emmanuel (God is with us) lend credence to the opinion that Isaiah’s perspective does not stop at the birth of Hezekiah; it moves ahead to that ideal king of David’s line through whose coming God could finally be said to definitively be with His people. This does not mean that Isaiah foresaw the fulfillment of this prophecy in Christ but he expressed the hope that Christ perfectly realized. Matthew and the Church, looking backward through the lens of the resurrection, have seen in the birth of Christ from the Blessed Virgin Mother the perfect fulfillment of this prophecy.

Psalm 24:1-6

  • A pilgrim song on way to the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Romans 1:1-7

Paul sets forth his basic creed & the boundaries of Christian thought over the person of Christ: true God (v.4) and true man (v.3).

“descended from David according to the flesh” (v. 3)

  • This first affirmation asserts that Jesus was a son of David in the order of natural physical descent. He was a royal son with a right to the sacral anointing of a messiah.

“but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness” (v. 4)

  • This second affirmation contrasts with the first. Although Jesus was the son descended from David on the physical level, he was set up as the Son of God with power on the level of the Spirit (as of the resurrection). As “life giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45), Jesus is able to communicate the Spirit to those who believe in Him.
  • “Christ is the son of David in weakness according to the flesh but Son of God in power according to the Spirit of sanctification. … Weakness relates to David but life eternal to the power of God.” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (ca. A.D. 393), Explanation of Certain Passages from the Apostle’s Epistle to the Romans 5,7]

among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy (v. 6-7).

  • “See how often Paul uses the word called! … And he does so not out of long-windedness but 5 out of a desire to remind them of the benefit which calling brings. For since it was likely that among those who believed there would be some consuls and rulers as well as poor and common men, Paul casts aside inequality of rank and writes to them all under one common heading. But if in the most important and spiritual things everything is laid out as common to both slaves and free men, e.g., the love of God, the calling, the gospel, the adoption, the grace, the peace, the sanctification, etc., how could it be other than the utmost folly to divide those whom God had joined together and made to be of equal honor in the higher things, for the sake of things on earth. For this reason, I presume, from the very start this blessed apostle casts out this mischievous disease and then leads them to the mother of blessings – humility.” [Saint John Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 391), Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans 1,7]

Matthew 1:18-24

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

  • “Since Christ wished to be born of a virgin, why did he wish his Mother to be espoused? So that his birth would be hidden from the devil, lest he should impede Christ’s Passion and the fruit of our redemption if he knew” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly (v.19)

  • He is called righteous (upright) because of his desire to observe the Law. Levitical law required stoning of an adulterous wife (Deuteronomy 22:21). Write a bill of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) as opposed to the trial by ordeal (Numbers 5:11-31).
  • The irony: God’s love in the Incarnation comes to us through Joseph’s broken heart ~ Magnificat.
  • “Joseph was so free from the passion of jealousy as to be unwilling to cause distress to the Virgin, even in the slightest way. Joseph determined to conduct himself now by a higher rule than the law” ~ St. John Chrysostom

and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” (v. 23)

  • This name is fulfilled in the Holy Eucharist and also is fulfilled in Matthew 28:20 where Jesus declares “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age”.
  • “The name God-with-us, given to our Saviour by the prophet, signifies that the two natures are united in his one Person” ~ St Bede
  • Emmanuel = In the name “Emmanuel,” we find the answer to humanity’s deepest longings for God throughout the ages. Emmanuel is both a prayer and plea (on our behalf) and a promise and declaration on God’s part. When we pronounce the word, we are really praying and pleading: “God, be with us!” And when God speaks it, the almighty, eternal, omnipresent Creator of the world is telling us: “I am with you” in this Child. In the baby Jesus, God is “with us,” not merely to bless us in some sort of cameo appearance at one difficult moment in history. Nor is God with us in that he is going to use Jesus to help us, protect us, rescue us from danger and guide us. No — the little Lord Jesus asleep in the manger of Bethlehem is “God with us” because he is God.

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home (v. 24).

  • “Why in his sleep? Because Joseph was in a certain way doubting; hence he was in a certain way to have appeared to him in his sleep” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Gospel awakening marks the beginning of a graced, personal transformation.
  • “One is struck by the rap succession of these 5 verbs, enumerating linearly everything Joseph did and did not do following his dream. He is the obedient man of action whose every move is attentive to the will of God… His vocation is to be the visible fatherhood of God on earth” ~ Leiva-Merikakis



  • Imagine that you are with Joseph when he awakens from his dream. He tells you that even though Mary is pregnant, he is going to marry her anyway because the child she is carrying is the long awaited Messiah, who will save his people from their sins. What do you think when you hear this? Are you shocked at his decision, or inspired by his trust in the Lord? Do you think you would have the courage to do what Joseph did? Prayerfully reflect on how you tend to respond when God invites you to do something difficult or confusing. ~ Opening the Word series
  • Is there an area of your life right now that is bewildering or difficult for you to understand—an area in which you may be wondering, “Why is this happening? What am I to do? Where is God in all of this?” Take this situation to God in prayer. Talk to God about it. Ask him to show you what he is trying to teach you through this difficult situation, and then ask him to help you imitate Joseph’s trust and obedience.~ Opening the Word series

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