A Seasonal Context

This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent and includes the traditional gospel passage from Matthew in which we encounter the “annunciation” of Jesus’ birth to Joseph.  In addition to its biblical context, this reading also carries a seasonal meaning. The Fourth Sunday of Advent always tells part of the story that just precedes the birth of Christ. These familiar episodes set the stage for one of the Bible’s best-known passages, the story of Christmas. This reading, as well as the gospels for the 4th Sunday in Advent in the other years, aligns well with the readings of the seven days of Advent that immediately precede Christmas.  Not only do the readings for the daily Masses just before Christmas include the beginnings of the Gospel infancy narratives (Matthew 1 on Dec. 17-18; Luke 1 on Dec. 19-24), but we again get to hear the traditional “O Antiphons,” at Mass.

Most familiar these days from the popular hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” the “O Antiphons” are more than a thousand years old. The gospel readings for the 4th Sunday, the gospels for those weekday readings, and the “O Antiphons” all begin to answer the question of Advent: who is coming? Our gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Advent (Year A) provides it contribution to the larger answer: Jesus Christ (v.18), son of Mary (v.18), adopted son of Joseph (v20), son of David (v.20), named Jesus (v.21), the one who will save his people from their sins (v.21), and Emmanuel…God with us (v.22).

Image credit: Dream of St Joseph, c. 1625–1630, by Gerard Seghers | Kunsthistorisches Museum | Public Domain

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