Advent is customarily a season of hope for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises and Scripture’s prophecies. The four weeks before Christmas are filled with prophecies and predictions of Christ’s arrival on earth fulfilling the Jewish yearning for Messianic deliverance. Advent then fosters a yearning in the Christian soul for intimate contact with God even now, in the present day, longing for a new arrival of Christ through the Church’s sacraments, personal prayer and Christian community life. Still again, Advent revives the fundamental Christian belief in a final coming of Christ at the end of time. “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and of his kingdom there will be no end,” the Creeds solemnly and dogmatically state.
The firm foundation of these triple Christian hopes is, of course, a solid appreciation that God will be as true to his New Testament promises as he was true in the past toward his Old Testament promises. The Scripture selections for the four Sundays of Advent offer a solid confirmation that God will be just as affirming toward the present Christian community as he was encouraging toward the ancient Jewish community.
The Second Book of Samuel (7:12-16) recounts the promise made to King David that God would “raise up your offspring” after David and establish a “royal throne forever.” God tenderly promises, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” God then guarantees, “Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.” This belief that God would establish an enduring kingdom became a lasting source of great hope for the Jews, especially in times of foreign invasion. As Psalm 89:34-35 insists, “But I will not take my mercy from him, nor will I betray my bond of faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant; the promise of my lips I will not alter.” God truly meant what he said. He would be true to his promises and maintain the Davidic line.
It was this divine pledge from II Samuel that there would be an enduring throne in Jerusalem guaranteed by the birth of a son that Isaiah (7:14-16) later cited to reassure the wavering Ahaz that he need not fear the invading armies of Syria and northern Palestine. Jerusalem’s safety would be guaranteed and the sign that David’s kingdom would be secure is the birth of a son who would still be quite young when Jerusalem’s enemies would fail: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign;* the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. Curds and honey he will eat so that he may learn to reject evil and choose good; for before the child learns to reject evil and choose good, the land of those two kings whom you dread shall be deserted.” Judah and the house of David should trust God’s promises and not fear the combined armies of the north and Syria. Within a short time, before the boy grows up, these two enemy states will be destroyed, and David’s dynasty will continue. God’s fidelity to the kingdom of David in the Old Testament is now the guarantee of his fidelity to his promises made in the New Testament.
St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans likewise cites God’s fidelity to his promises made to the house of David as a sure source of hope for the Christian community that God would be equally faithful in keeping his promises toward them: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Just as the Davidic line continues unbroken through Christ, so too the Gospel promises spoken by God will be fruitful and ultimately fulfilled.
St. Matthew’s Gospel account also cites the birth of a son as a pledge of God’s fidelity to his promises: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.’” Rest assured, the birth of this new son to Mary will prove to be just as effective a sign for the Christian world as the birth of that son mentioned by Isaiah proved to be a worthy sign to the Jewish world.