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4th SUNDAY IN ADVENT (Cycle B)

Readings:
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14c-16
Psalm 89:2-5, 26, 28
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095). 

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Mystery Revealed
In this Sunday's Gospel reading, what the angel Gabriel announces to Mary of Nazareth is the revelation promised by the prophets and the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant (First Reading and Psalm).  It is what St. Paul refers to in the Second Reading as "the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages" that is now "made know to all nations "(Rom 16:25, 26). 

The First Reading reveals God's eternal covenant with King David and his descendants. When David settled in Jerusalem, he did not consider it fitting that he should live comfortably in his "house" while the Ark of the Covenant that was the dwelling place of God among His covenant people resided in a tent.  David wanted to build a "house" (Temple) for Yahweh.  Instead of David building a house for God, God promised to reward David by building him a dynastic "house." Yahweh formed an unconditional covenant promising that He will be a "father" to David's son(s), He will never withdraw His covenant love from David's "house/dynasty," and David's "house/dynasty" will endure forever. It is a covenant that comes to fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, son of David and Son of God.

The Responsorial Psalm recounts David's reaction to receiving God's promise of an eternal covenant for him and his heirs. The Church applies this psalm to Jesus as St. Athanasius wrote: "We read here how he who was made incarnate through the power of the divine economy calls God himself his father: 'I go up to my Father and your Father, my God and your God' [Jn 20:17].  He is the one of whom the prophet speaks: he calls the child that is born 'Mighty God, Everlasting Father' [Is 9:6]" (Expositiones in Psalmos, 88).

In the Second Reading, St. Paul concludes his letter to the Christians of Rome with a doxology of praise.  He addresses his praise through Jesus Christ to God the Father Almighty who has revealed the mystery of His divine plan. It is a mystery that was kept secret "for long ages," announced in the prophetic writings of God's holy prophets, and made known to all the nations of the earth.  God revealed this mystery through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God calls all nations and peoples to "the obedience of faith" in accepting God's gift of salvation through the sacrifice of God the Son.

In the Gospel Reading, nearly every word the angel speaks to Mary is an echo of the promises God made after the Fall of our first parents and His divine revelations to the prophets concerning the future Davidic Messiah.  Mary is the "woman" whose "seed" (offspring) will crush the serpent (Gen 3:15), and she is the virgin prophesied to bear a son of the house of David (Is 7:13-14), the one who is the "Prince of peace" (Is 9:5).  She is "the daughter of Zion" called to rejoice that her king, the Lord God, has come into her as a mighty Savior (Zeph 3:14-17).  The son she will bear is the Redeemer-Messiah who comes in fulfillment of the covenant God made with David in today's First Reading.  As we sing in the Psalm, He will be a king forever (Ps 89:4) and will call God, "my Father" (Ps 89:26).  As St. Paul writes in the Second Reading, God has revealed this great mystery to bring all nations to salvation through the "obedience of faith" (Rom 16:26).

The First Reading 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14, 16 ~ A King Forever
 When King David was settled in his palace [house], and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God dwells in a tent!"  3 Nathan answered the king, "Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you."  4 But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: 5 "Go, tell my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD: Should you build me a house to dwell in?' [...] 8b It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel.  9 I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.  And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.  10 I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance.  Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, 11 since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.  I will give you rest from all your enemies.  The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you.  12 And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. [...] 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. 
16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.'"

The keyword in today's First Reading is the Hebrew word "house," in Hebrew bayith (pronounced bah'-yith), repeated five times in our passage (verses 1, 2, 5, 11, and 16), but eight times in 2 Samuel 7:1-16 (verses 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11, 13, and 16) by God in his message to David.  Then David repeats "house" seven more times in his prayer in response to God's message (verses 18, 19, 25, 26, 27, and 29 twice for a total of fifteen times in the Hebrew text). 

Nathan is David's court prophet.  Unlike other kings of the ancient Near East, Israel's kings did not rule with absolute power.  Israel's kings were agents/servants of God, and it was the prophet who communicated God's instructions to the king.  It was also the prophet's duty to confront the king with moral failures.  The kings of Israel were to be subservient to the Torah of God, the Divine Law as stipulated in the Law in Ten Commandments and the further instruction in the Law Codes found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Those laws included laws for the limited power of a king (Dt 17:14-20).

When David settled in Jerusalem, he did not consider it fitting that he should live comfortably in his "house" while the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of God among His covenant people, resided in a tent.  David wanted to build a "house" (Temple) for Yahweh.  In verse 3, Nathan agreed with his plan and told David to proceed because God was with him.  However, that night God came to Nathan in a dream and instructed the prophet to tell David that it is presumptuous of him to think that God needed a house/temple like pagan gods.  God cannot be confined to one place.  Instead of David building God a "house," God will reward David by building him a "house" that is a Davidic dynasty, and God will appoint a son of David's to succeed him.  God establishes a covenant with His faithful servant, David, in which God promises three things:

  1. He will be a "father" to David's son(s).
  2. He will never withdraw His covenant love from David's "house/dynasty."
  3. David's "house/dynasty" will endure forever.

The promise in verse 14, I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me, is a formula of adoption and the earliest expression of Davidic messianism.  Each Davidic king will be God's adopted son.  David writes about his special relationship with Yahweh and God's relationship with the sons of David in Psalm 89. God will acknowledge the Davidic heir: He [the Davidic heir] will cry to me, "You are my father, my God, the rock of my salvation!"  So I shall make him my first-born, the highest of earthly kings.  I shall maintain my faithful love for him always, my covenant with him will stay firm.  I have established his dynasty forever, his throne to be as lasting as the heavens (Ps 89:26-29; see the Second Reading). 

The Old Testament repeats the promise of the eternal Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 23:5; 2 Chronicles 13:6; Ps 89:4-5; 132:11-12, 17-18 and Sirach 45:25. The prophets identified the fulfillment of the everlasting rule of the Davidic king in the promised Redeemer-Messiah (cf. Is 4:17; 9:5-6/7; 11:10-12; Jer 17:24-27; 23:5-6; Ez 34:23-24; 37:24-28; etc.).  The climax of this charter with humanity through God's servant David is Jesus Christ, "son of David" (Mt 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 21:9; Lk 1:32; Rom 1:3; etc.).  The Church reads this passage from 2 Samuel Chapter 7 in the liturgy of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, protector-husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary because it is he who is the guarantor of the Davidic descent of Jesus through being "of the house of David" (Mt 1:20; Lk 1:27) as is Mary of Nazareth (Lk 1:30-33).

Responsorial Psalm 89:2-5, 26, 28 ~ An Eternal Covenant
The response is: "Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord."

2 The promises of the LORD I will sing forever, through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.  3 For you have said, "My kindness is established forever"; in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness. 
Response:
4 "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant: 5 forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations."
Response:
26 "He shall say of me, 'You are my father, my God, the Rock, my savior.' 
28 Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him, and my covenant with him stands firm.
Response:

Psalm 89 is David's response after the prophet Nathan delivers God's divine oracle announcing the promise of an eternal covenant with the "house of David" (2 Sam 7:13-16).  The covenant was unconditional for David's descendants as a whole, but the success or failure of individual Davidic kings depended on their faith and obedience to God's commandments.  In Psalm 89:2-5 God affirms that His covenant with David, His "chosen one," is forever because God is faithful to what He has sworn.

In applying this psalm to Jesus, Church tradition focuses on verses 26-28.  St. Athanasius wrote: "We read here how he who was made incarnate through the power of the divine economy calls God himself his father: 'I go up to my Father and your Father, my God and your God' [Jn 20:17].  He is the one of whom the prophet speaks: he calls the child that is born 'Mighty God, Everlasting Father' [Is 9:6]" (Expositiones in Psalmos, 88).

The Second Reading Romans 16:25-27 ~ The Mystery of God's Plan
25 To him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages 26 but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever.  Amen.

This passage is the concluding doxology to St. Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome.  Unlike St. Paul's other letters, this one ends with a poem of praise addressed through Jesus Christ to God the Father Almighty who revealed the mystery of His divine plan to humanity. It is a mystery that was kept secret "for long ages," announced in the prophetic writings of God's holy prophets, and has now, through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, been made known to all the nations of the earth.  

Only with the Incarnation and mission of Jesus Christ has God brought to fulfillment the covenant promises made to Abraham, David, and Israel.  St. Paul says the mystery hidden for many generations is not only revealed to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.  The glory of our salvation has come to us through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who has called all mankind to "the obedience of faith" in accepting God's gift of salvation through the sacrifice of God the Son.

The Gospel of Luke 1:26-38 ~ Mary of Nazareth: God's Chosen Handmaiden
26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.  28 And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you."  29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  34 But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"  35 And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37 for nothing will be impossible for God."  38 Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word."  Then the angel departed from her. 

The mention of the sixth month in verse 26 takes us back to the previous verse where Elizabeth conceived and went into seclusion for five months (Lk 1:24).  Now it is the sixth month (which is five months as we count and not as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value).  The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary is quite different from his greeting in his earlier visit to the priest Zechariah in Luke 1:13.  Notice that Gabriel did not greet Zechariah with the same degree of respect and status as he did by giving Mary a title.  The greeting is also unusual in that the angel does not begin with the typical Semitic greeting of shalom (peace) but with chare, translated "hail" or "rejoice." He continues by announcing Mary's special status, often translated as "full of grace," but the literal translation is "has been graced."  The angel Gabriel's announcement in the literal Greek is Chare, kecharitomene [kah-ray kay-kah-ree-toe-may-nay].  The angel addressed Mary by a title that was a past perfect participle of the Greek noun charis, meaning "grace": kecharitomene = "has been graced" (Fitzmyer, Gospel of Luke, page 345).  A past perfect participle indicates a condition that existed in the past and continues in the present.   Mary has been perfected in and continues in grace. The condition of being "graced" in the past tense is to never have been lacking in grace; it is an indication of Mary's unique conception without original sin.

The most common rendering of this phrase is "full of grace."  It is a transliteration of Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation of the text.  However, while "full of grace" certainly describes Mary's condition, it is not what was expressed in the Greek past perfect participle kecharitomene.  "Full of grace" in the Greek would be pleres chariots, as used for Christ in John 1:14 and for St. Stephen in Acts 6:8.  Mary's title, kecharitomene, indicates a state which is beyond filled.  In addressing Mary with this title, the angel is signifying that she possesses, and has always possessed, a plentitude of divine grace (Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, page 268-69).  That Mary was deeply disturbed by the angel's greeting (Lk 1:29) is evidence that someone of her humble station had received a greeting and was addressed by a title that was highly unusual.

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church taught what Pope Pius IX expressed in the encyclical Ineffabilis Deus: ... "this singular, solemn and unheard-of greeting showed that all the divine graces reposed in the Mother of God and that she was adorned with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This singular condition meant that Mary was never subject to the curse of original sin and that she was preserved from all sin.  The theologically explosive words of the Archangel Gabriel constitute one of the important text sources which reveal the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception" (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus; and Paul VI, Creed of the People of God).

The Catechism of the Church teaches:
CCC 411: "Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ's victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life."

CCC 490: "To become the mother of the Savior, Mary 'was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role' ...  In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace."

CCC 491: "Through the centuries the Church has become even more aware that Mary, full of grace through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.  That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: 'The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.'" (quoting Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus; also see CCC 492-493; 722).

The angel's greeting also identifies Mary as the fulfillment of "the daughter of Zion" in the writings of the prophets.  God's holy prophets taught the nation of Israel that it was her destiny to give birth to the promised Redeemer-Messiah, and now Mary, a daughter of Israel/Zion, was asked to fulfill that destiny.  The prophet Zephaniah wrote: Shout for joy, daughter of Zion [chaire thygater Sion], Israel, shout aloud!  Rejoice; exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!  15 Yahweh has repealed your sentence; he has turned your enemy away.  Yahweh is king among you; Israel, you have nothing more to fear.  16 When that Day comes, the message for Jerusalem will be: Zion, have no fear, do not let your hands fall limp. 17 Yahweh your God is there with you, the warrior-Savior (3:14-17 NJB). [...] = Greek translation.  Compare this passage with Luke 1:28-31.

Mary is the fulfillment of Israel's destiny to produce the Redeemer-Messiah first promised in Genesis 3:15 and in St. Luke's allusion to the "daughter of Zion" prophecy in Zephaniah 3:14-17.  "Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person" (CCC 2676).

Luke 1:28-31
(the angel Gabriel speaking)
Zephaniah 3:14-17
NJB & LXX Greek
(God speaking)
"Chaire (Rejoice)"  (Lk 1:28) Chaire ... thygater Sion "Rejoice daughter of Zion" (Zeph 3:14)
"the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28) "Yahweh is king among you" (Zeph 3:15b)
"Do not be afraid, Mary" (Lk 1:30) "you have nothing more to fear... Zion have no fear" (Zeph 3:15-16)
"you will conceive in your womb" (Lk 1:31) <"Yahweh your God is there with you" (Zeph 3:17)
"Jesus" [Hebrew, Yah'shua; Aramaic, Yehoshua = "Yahweh saves"] (Lk 1:31) "the warrior-Savior" (Zeph 3:17)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2012

31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
The angel Gabriel told Mary to name her son "Jesus" (the English translation).  Both St. John the Baptist and Jesus were divinely named.  The ancients believed a name reflected the true essence of a person.  The Greek text of the New Testament renders Jesus' name as Iesous, but this was not the name His family and friends called Him.  Jesus' Hebrew name was (in old Hebrew) Yah'shua; in Jesus' time, His Aramaic name had evolved into Yehoshua.  An angel will tell Joseph the significance of the child's name in a dream: She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).  The name Yahshua/Yehoshua was the name of the hero-conquer of the Promised Land, Moses' successor, Joshua.

The angel's statement to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 is a word play on Jesus' Hebrew name.  His name literally means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is salvation" or even more literally, "I AM saves" or "I AM salvation" (God defines the Divine Name in Ex 3:14 as "I AM").  Jesus' Hebrew name is a theophoric name, a name compound that includes the name of a deity as part of the name.  In this case, the Yah is a prefix for Yahweh: "Yah" is a short form that represents the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, the name God revealed to Moses and the "I AM" of the burning bush in Exodus 3:13-15.  The name "I AM saves" or Yahweh saves" signifies not only Jesus' mission but the very name of God present in the person of the second person of the Most Holy Trinity made man for the redemption from sin of all of mankind: there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

The Fathers of the Church saw a typological link between Jesus and Joshua, the Old Testament hero who bore the same name.  Biblical typology is:  "A biblical person, thing, action, or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events.   In the Old Testament, Melchizedech and Jonah are types of Jesus Christ.  A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype, but the latter is always greater.  Both are independent of each other" (Catholic Dictionary, John A. Hardon, S.J.).

The Catechism teaches: "The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefiguration's of what he accomplished ion the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son" (CCC 128)"Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen.  Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself.  Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old.  Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament.  As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New" (CCC 129, quoting St. Augustine). 

The Typology of Joshua and Jesus
Joshua
"Yahweh is salvation"
Jesus
"Yahweh is salvation"
Moses gave Hoshea the name Yah'shua/Joshua. The angel Gabriel told Mary of Nazareth to name God's Son Yah'shua/Jesus.
His name defined his mission as God's anointed. His name defined His mission as God's anointed.
Joshua's mission was to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan. Jesus' mission was to lead the children of God into the Promised Land of Heaven.
Joshua began his mission by crossing the Jordan River from the east to the west. Jesus began His mission after His baptism by crossing the Jordan River from the east to the west.
Joshua faithfully served God all of his life. Jesus faithfully served God the Father all of His earthly life and beyond.

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2012

Since God alone can offer the gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sin, it is the mission and the destiny of God the eternal Son to save humanity, just as His name suggests: "I AM saves"/"I AM salvation." 

32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
Mary and Joseph (Jesus' foster father) are descendants of the great King David (Lk 2:4).  The angel Gabriel told Mary her son's throne will last forever.  It is a prophecy that recalls the promise of the eternal 5th kingdom in Daniel 2:44; it is the kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.  There are also echoes of God's covenant promises to King David in 2 Samuel 7:9-16 that his throne will endure forever with a Davidic heir ruling over the kingdom (also see 2 Sam 23:5).  St. Luke is intentionally linking God's promise to David of an eternal covenant and the inauguration of that covenant promise in Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus is the promised son of David's line who will rule forever.  He is the one greater than Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18:17-18 who has come to be the new Lawgiver and supreme prophet. He is God's anointed who will lead His people across the great "river" of physical death into the true Promised Land of Heaven, as prefigured by Joshua who led the children of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land of Canaan (Joshua 3:1-17). 

Compare the promises the angel Gabriel made to Mary concerning Jesus' destiny in Luke 1:31-33 and the promises God made to King David in 2 Samuel 7:9-16:

Promises made to David in
2 Samuel 7:9-16
Promises made to Mary in
Luke 1:31-33
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth [literal Hebrew translation = I will make your name great] (2 Sam 7:9). ... and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great (Lk 1:32).

The LORD reveals to you that he will establish a house for you and when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors [literal Hebrew = your fathers]... (2 Sam 7:11-12).

The Lord will give him the throne of David his father (Lk 1:32).
I shall be a father to him and he a son to me. (2 Sam 7:14). ... and will be called Son of the Most High (Lk 1:32).
... I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm [literal Hebrew = the throne of your kingdom I shall establish forever] (2 Sam 7:13).

Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever (2 Sam 7:16).

... he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Lk 1:33).
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2000

34 But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" 
Zechariah's question to the angel in 1:18 rendered a rebuke in 1:20, whereas Mary's question in 1:34 does not receive a negative response.  The difference is that Zechariah's question expressed unbelief (verse 20), and Mary's question concerns only her state of virginity.

35 And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 
The angel uses the verb episkiazein (overshadow) to explain Mary's divine conception by the power of God the Holy Spirit.  It is the same verb used in the Greek Septuagint translation of Exodus 40:34 when God's Spirit, in the visible form of the Glory Cloud, "overshadowed" the Tabernacle and the glory of Yahweh filled the Dwelling.  It is the same word used in the Transfiguration of the Christ (Mt 17:5 and Lk 9:34) when the three Apostles heard the voice of God coming from a cloud which cast its shadow over those assembled on the mountain. It is also the word in Acts 5:15 when St. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, approached the sick and, as his shadow fell over them, they were healed.  The shadow of God is the gentlest manifestation of His Divine Presence.  How tenderly He overshadowed the Virgin Mary to change her destiny and all of human history!

In Exodus 40:34, God' Spirit overshadowed the Sanctuary that held the Ark of the Covenant when His presence came to dwell on it (Ex 25:10, 21-22).  The Fathers of the Church saw a connection between the Virgin Mary and the Ark of the Covenant.  According to the Letter to the Hebrews, there were the three items placed in the Ark of the Covenant when it resided in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple before the Babylonian conquest.  Compare Mary's womb with the description of the contents of the Ark of the Covenant from the Letter to the Hebrews: Behind the second veil was the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies, in which were the gold altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant entirely covered with gold.  4 In it were the gold jar containing the manna, the staff of Aaron that had sprouted, and the tablets of the covenant (Heb 9:3-4).

Contents of the Ark of the Covenant according to Hebrews 9:4 Jesus Within Mary's Womb
The Ten Commandments = the word of God. (also see Ex 25:21; 40:20) Jesus: the Living Word of God. (Jn 1:1)
A pot of the manna, the bread from heaven. (also see Ex 16:33-34) Jesus: the Living Bread come down from heaven. (Jn 6:51)
Aaron's staff or branch that came back to life when green shoots budded as a sign of God's favor. (also see Num 17:23, 25) Jesus: "The Branch" of the House of David that died but came to life again.*
M. Hunt © 1998

*"the Branch," is a prophetic title for the Messiah in the books of the prophets.

The sacred box of the Ark of the Covenant, upon which God's presence rested, was last seen just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6 BC.  The prophet Jeremiah took the Ark out of the Temple and hid it and the tent of the desert Sanctuary in a cave on Mt. Nebo (2 Mac 2:1-8).  The prophet Jeremiah foretold that the time would come when the shrine of the Ark of the Covenant would no longer be important to the covenant people:  They will in those days no longer say, "The Ark of the Covenant of the LORD!"  They will no longer think of it, or remember it, or miss it, or make another (Jer 3:16b). 

But will the faithful remnant of Israel, who will become the New Covenant Church of the people of God, be deprived of a sacred vessel associated with the very presence of God?  No! The Virgin Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant!  Her womb is the "dwelling of God ... with men" (see CCC 2676 and Rev 11:19-12:5; 21:3).

 

THE VIRGIN MARY IS THE ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT
The Ark of the Old Covenant Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant
God the Holy Spirit overshadowed and then indwelled the Ark.  The Ark became the dwelling place of the presence of God. (Ex 40:34-35) God the Holy Spirit overshadowed and then indwelled Mary, making Mary's womb the dwelling place of the presence of God. (Lk 1:35)
The Ark contained the Ten Commandments (the word of God in stone), a pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that came back to life.
(Ex 25:16; Dt 10:2, 5; Heb 9:4)
The womb of the Virgin contained Jesus: the Word of God enfleshed, the living bread from heaven, "the Branch" (Messianic title) who died but come back to life.  (Lk 1:35)
The Ark traveled to the hill country of Judah to rest in the house of Obed-edom.  (2 Sam 6:1-11) Mary traveled to the hill country of Judah (Judea) to the home of Elizabeth.  (Lk 1:39)
Dressed in a priestly ephod, King David approached the Ark and danced and leaped for joy.  (2 Sam 6:14) John the Baptist, son of a priest who would himself become a priest, leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb at the sound of Mary's voice.  (Lk 1:43)
David shouted for joy in the presence of God and the holy Ark.  (2 Sam 6:15) Elizabeth gave a cry of joy in the presence of God within Mary's womb.  (Lk 1:42)
David asked How is it that the Ark of the Lord comes to me? (2 Sam 6:9) Elizabeth asked, Why is this granted unto me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  (Lk 1:43)
The Ark remained in the house of Obed-edom for three months.  (2 Sam 6:11) Mary remained in the house of her cousin Elizabeth for three months.  (Lk 1:56)
The house of Obed-edom was blessed by the presence of the Ark.  (2 Sam 6:11) The word "blessed" is used three times concerning Mary at Elizabeth's house.  (in Lk 1:39-45)
The Ark returned to its sanctuary and eventually ends up in Jerusalem. There God reveals the glory of His presence in the newly built Temple.  (2 Sam 6:12; 1 Kng 8:9-11) Mary returned home from visiting Elizabeth and eventually comes to Jerusalem. There she presents God the Son in the Temple.  (Lk 1:56; 2:21-22)
God made Aaron's staff return to life and bud to prove he was the legitimate High Priest.  It was later placed in the Ark. (Num 17:8; Heb 9:4) God returned His Son, enfleshed in the womb of the Virgin, to life to prove He is the eternal High Priest.
When transported outside the Holy of Holies, God commanded that the Ark be covered with a blue veil.  (Num 4:4-6) In Mary's appearances outside of heaven, visionaries testify that she wears a blue veil.
In Revelation 11:19, John sees the Ark of the Covenant in heaven; this is the last verse of Chapter 11.

In Revelation 12:1, John sees Mary in heaven.  It is the same vision Juan Diego saw of Mary in Mexico in 1531: the Woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.

M. Hunt, copyright © 2002, revised 2012

Genesis 3:15a is the first revelation of what will be Mary's unique role in salvation history.  In that verse, God curses the Serpent and promises that the Redeemer-Messiah who will crush the power of Satan will be born from a woman: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and hers [her seed]... (the First Reading).  The Fathers of the Church referred to this passage as the "first Gospel message," or in Greek as the Protoevangelium.  The prophets of God narrowed this promise by identifying Israel as the people destined to bring forth the promised woman.  In addition, the prophet Jeremiah foretells Mary's role as the Ark of the New Covenant.  In Jeremiah Chapter 3, he wrote concerning the sacred Ark of the Covenant that will disappear in the Babylonian conquest.  He reassures them that a time will come when they will no longer seek the lost Ark: I shall give you shepherds after my own heart, who will pasture you wisely and discreetly.  Then, when you have increased and grown numerous in the country, Yahweh declares, no one will ever again say: The Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh!  It will not enter their minds, they will not remember it or miss it, nor will another one be made.  When that time comes, Jerusalem will be called: The Throne of Yahweh, and all the nations will converge on her, on Yahweh's name, on Jerusalem, and will no longer follow their own stubborn and wicked inclinations (Jer 3:15-17 NJB). 

In this prophecy "Jerusalem," as the center of true worship, becomes a symbolic name for the universal, New Covenant Church.  Then in Jeremiah Chapter 31, a chapter in which Jeremiah prophesies the promise of a New Covenant (31:31); he writes: The Lord has created a new thing upon the earth: the woman must encompass the man ... (Jer 31:22b; this is the literal Hebrew translation from Jeremiah's prophecy concerning promise of the New Covenant; see Jer 31:22-34).  ).  The NAB ends this sentence with the words "with devotion," but those words do not appear in either the Hebrew or Greek text.  This passage only makes sense if the creation of the first man and woman, in which the virgin Eve was encompassed and born from the body of the man Adam (Gen 2:21-22), contrasts with Jesus encompassed within and formed from the body of the Virgin Mary.  Normally a man-child being born from the body of a woman is not "something new," but it is "something new" when that man-child is the Son of God enfleshed within the womb of a virgin named Mary. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms Mary's role as the daughter of Zion and the Ark of the New Covenant: ... "Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells.  She is the dwelling of God...with men" (CCC 2676).  

The Holy Spirit will come upon you ...
It was God the Holy Spirit's role to prepare Mary for the Incarnation of the Messiah:

  1. The Holy Spirit prepared Mary in advance for the Incarnation of the Son by infusing her with His grace at the moment of her conception: "By the Holy Spirit's power and her faith, her virginity became uniquely fruitful" (CCC # 723).
  2. In preparing Mary, the Holy Spirit fulfilled God the Father's promise for the salvation of humanity: I shall put enmity between you and the woman .... (Gen 3:15).
  3. In Mary, the Holy Spirit manifested God the Son enfleshed who then became the Son of God within the womb of a human mother who is both fruitful mother and ever virgin. Mary became the "burning bush" of a definitive Theophany.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, she made the Word visible in the humility of His flesh through her DNA.

The result was twofold:

  1. Through the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit began to fulfill God's plan to bring humanity into communion with Christ.
  2. The Holy Spirit made Mary the Ark of the New Covenant as she bore the presence of God in her womb.  The "something new" promised by Jeremiah was a reversal of the old creation when the first virgin (Eve) came from the body of the first man (Adam).  At the beginning of the new creation, the second Adam (Jesus) came from the body of the second Eve (the Virgin Mary).  What made this event "new" is that this time the woman who held a man-child in her womb was a virgin, and the man-child was God enfleshed. 

36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37 for nothing will be impossible for God." 
As an example of the wondrous works of God, the angel tells Mary that her barren, elderly kinswoman has conceived a child and is now in "the sixth month."  It is the sixth month as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value as we count; therefore, Elizabeth was five months pregnant.  The ancients recognized a ten-month pregnancy (Wis 7:1-2).  It was believed impossible for a barren, elderly couple to conceive or for a virgin to conceive, but Mary knows that her God is the God of the impossible.

38 Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word."  Then the angel departed from her. 
Mary humbly identified herself as God's female slave/servant.  Mary completely submitted herself to the Lord and His sovereignty over her life with her words: "May it be done to me according to your word." And with the angel's mission accomplished, he departed. 

At the moment of Mary's free will response, Jesus was conceived by the power of God the Holy Spirit: "From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event: Jesus was conceived 'by the Holy Spirit without human seed.'  The Fathers see in the virginal conception the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own ..." (CCC 496).

The Incarnation took place as God the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" (episkiazein) and enveloped the Virgin Mary.  This same Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters of Creation, bringing life (Gen 1:2-31).  Now He came bringing life to the Virgin's womb; the fruit her womb was the work of God the Holy Spirit (CCC# 697).  This worthy Virgin, conceived without the stain of sin, became the new Tabernacle of God and the Ark of the New Covenant (see Rev 11:19-12:1; CCC 2676).  Catholics reflect upon this mystery every time they celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and pray the Angelus.

Mary's fiat (her unequivocal, free will "yes" to the will of God for her life) stands in sharp contrast to the free will response of another virgin at the dawn of human history facing a decision that not only affected her life but the course of human history.  The contrast to the Virgin Mary in her obedience is the virgin Eve. In Eve's decision to rebel against God and His will for her life in her free will decision to decide for herself what was good and what was evil in eating the forbidden fruit. 

The Fathers of the Church saw the Virgin Mary as the "new Eve," and Mary's "yes" as undoing the disobedience brought about by the virgin Eve: "Thus, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary.  What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.22.4).  And the Church affirms Mary's role as the "new Eve" from the time of the promise of her role in salvation history prophesied in the Protoevangelium, "first good-news"/gospel, in Genesis 3:15:  "Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the Protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the "new Eve..." (CCC 411, also see CCC 489, 726, 2618 and 2853).

Lord, let the words of the opening prayer for this Solemnity express our love and gratitude for Mary and Your great gift of grace that prepared her for the Incarnation and birth of Your Divine Son: "Father, the image of the Virgin is found in the Church.  Mary had a faith that Your Spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin for You kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception.  Trace in our actions the lines of her love, in our hearts her readiness of faith.  Prepare once again a world for Your Son."  Amen.

Catechism References:
Luke 1:26-38 (CCC 497, 706); 1:26-27 (CCC 488); 1:26 (CCC 332); 1:28-37 (CCC 494), 1:28 (CCC 490, 491); 1:31 (CCC 43, 2812); 1:32-33 (CCC 709); 1:32 (CCC 559); 1:34 (CCC 484, 497, 505, 437, 484, 486, 697); 1:37-38 (CCC 494); 1:37 (CCC 148, 269, 273, 276); 1:38 (CCC 64, 148, 510, 2617, 2677, 2827, 2856)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017