Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we open with the first reading from the Prophet Micah where we learn about a prediction God gave concerning the Messiah. Then we learn about Jesus’ high priestly ministry in the second reading from the Book of Hebrews. We close this week’s study with the Gospel reading from Luke in which Mary visits Elizabeth.
Introduction to the First Reading:
As a Christian, it’s important to be patient and wait upon God, even when we see great injustices going on around us. Impatience was one of the issues that got into the way of the Jews properly interpreting the passages concerning the coming Messiah. One may think that if the First Century Jews had a good grasp on the Scriptures so many of them wouldn’t have missed the First Coming of Jesus. The Jews had endured centuries of persecution from the various world powers including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and finally the Romans. From all appearances the Prophet Micah made it very clear what would happen, even if this forerunner didn’t explain the exact timing of the events.
Today’s reading opens with a summary of the former sieges possibly under the direction of either King Sennacherib (of the Syrian Empire) or Nebuchadnezzar (of Babylon), then provides an astounding prophecy about the coming ruler Jesus. Micah wrote during the reign of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Micah 1:1), some eight centuries before the birth of Jesus.
Micah 5:1-4 NAS95 1 "Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops; They have laid siege against us; With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." 3 Therefore He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.
Micah said that their enemies would so disparage them that even their own king would be humiliated, or “With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek” (v. 1c). Throughout their history Israel has frequently been the subject of attacks and invasions, and in this case Micah was likely referring either to an attack by the Assyrians or the Babylonians. While this prophecy came true in Micah’s day they also pointed to the Messiah. Jesus was struck in the face in the time leading up to His crucifixion (John 18:22, Matthew 26:67). From there the prophet moved on to reveal more about the coming Messiah we now know as Jesus. He said, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (v. 2). Micah named the exact town in which the Messiah would be born. Though there were two towns named Bethlehem in Israel, he differentiated between the one in the north and the one near Jerusalem in which the new King would be born. One would assume that a powerful leader would come from the capital city, Jerusalem. However, Micah’s prophecy revealed that this would not be case, instead the ruler would come from the tiny insignificant town of Bethlehem. (We sing the song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” as a reminder of God’s unusual way of exalting the lowliest of cities for His purposes). From this insignificant city God would bring forth a ruler who usher in spiritual deliverance from the ultimate enemy Satan. Micah brought forth the idea that the Messiah was from eternity (v. 2). This corresponds to what the Prophet Daniel said about the Messiah being the “Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:22). He is not a created being, rather He existed in eternity past as part of the Godhead (John 1:1-2). It is difficult to understand what the prophet meant when he said, “He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child” (v. 3). It is safe to say that the Israelites were subject to a 400-year period of prophetic silence where they might have felt abandoned by God and wondered if He would ever bring forth the promised Messiah. The prophet goes on to foretell the in-grafting of the Gentiles into the family of God by saying, “Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel” (v. 3, see Romans 11:17). Like the other prophets, Micah also telescoped near and far term events today when he saw the kingdom of Jesus. During Jesus’ First Advent, He came as a shepherd leader where He declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd (verse 4, John 10:11). His true leadership is yet to be realized after He returns at the end of the age “Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth” (v. 4).
It’s amazing when you compare Micah’s prophecy to the life of Jesus and recognize the precision of the fulfillment by Jesus. As we move towards Christmas may we be reminded of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and His coming rulership over all the earth when He comes again so that our lives reflect this reality.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
Jesus fulfilled other prophecies besides what we just read in Micah. Our New Testament reading in Hebrews points out another important way that Jesus completed the requirements of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Through His perfect sacrifice, Jesus ushered in a new era of relating to God the Father. This passage helps us to see why it is necessary for us to place our faith in Jesus Who perfectly executed the will of the Father on our behalf.
Hebrews 10:5-10 NAS95 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; 6 IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. 7 "THEN I SAID, 'BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.'" 8 After saying above, "SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them" (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, "BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL." He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The author of Hebrews quoted from several Old Testament passages to show how Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law and brought an end to the need for the sacrificial system. The first Old Testament passage is from Psalm 40:6 that explains how God was fed up with their dead religion which involved ritualistic sacrifice. The Psalmist explains how the One that will come to fulfil these prophecies will perfectly obey the will of God, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8). Because Jesus perfectly fulfilled the will of God, we can be counted righteous based upon His merit (2 Corinthians 5:21). The reading closes with an important point about how Jesus took away the first covenant of the Law and brought in the second one of grace. The author said, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (v. 10). We are sanctified or made holy through a one-time sacrifice that can never be repeated.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel reading this week tells the story of Mary the mother of Jesus’ visit to Elizabeth who was to be the mother of John the Baptist. The context of the reading is that Mary had just been visited by the Angel Gabriel and told how she would be the mother of God’s Son Jesus, the Messiah. This reading is very important for Mary because she had just been told this incredible news about how God was going to bring the Messiah into the world through a supernatural, virgin birth. You can imagine that Mary’s heart was both elated and confused. Her visit to Elizabeth would have been a comforting and confirming experience to establish her faith in God’s unusual method of bringing the Messiah into the world.
Luke 1:39-45 NAS95 39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."
When Mary arrived at her relatives’ home, Elizabeth was six months pregnant even though she was advanced in age and barren up until that point (Luke 1:36). Elizabeth’s greeting would have been confirmation to Mary that God was up to something and her appearance by the Angel Gabriel was not a figment of her imagination. We see a contrast in this passage regarding the response to the Angel Gabriel’s messages. Zacharias had not believed Gabriel but instead had asked for a sign (Luke 1:18). Elizabeth said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that Mary had immediately believed, “And blessed is she who believed” (v. 45a). She was able to encourage Mary’s tender heart of belief that God could do the impossible, especially in light of the fact that she herself was pregnant with her own miracle child.
Elizabeth used this opportunity through the power of the Holy Spirit, to pronounce blessing upon Mary. She said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (v. 42). She also blessed her for believing what God had spoken to her through Gabriel. You can imagine that these pronouncements of blessing would have been important to Mary as she endured much opposition and suspicion over her unusual pregnancy. Mary may have even questioned whether this was a blessing or a curse when she was almost divorced by Joseph and when they had to travel to Bethlehem when she was great with child. The Christmas story is full of difficulties but this passage reminds us that being in the center of God’s will is to be blessed. Circumstances do not determine our favor from the Lord.
- As Christmas is very near take a moment to conduct an inventory of thankfulness. Write down five things for which you are thankful this Christmas holiday.
- List two major challenges that came your way during the past year. How has God helped you through your challenges this year? What Scripture verses helped you during these difficult times?