Luke 1:3 Theophilus: While the identity of the person is uncertain, the name means “loved by God,” a general greeting that could refer to any member of the Christian community.
Ch 1:5 Elizabeth was a kinswoman of Mary (cf. Lk 1:36). As the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist was a relative of Christ and a priest (cf. Lk 1:1-24). (CCC 717)
Ch 1:5-80 Luke begins his Gospel with an account of the events leading up to Christ’s Birth and early life, often called the Infancy Narrative. He places the narrative within a historical context and includes details that no other Gospel reports, including the conception and birth of John the Baptist (cf. Lk 1:5-25, 57-80); the Annunciation (cf. Lk 1:39-56); and the beautiful prayers the Magnificat (cf. Lk 1:46-55), the Canticle of Zechariah, also called the Benedictus (cf. Lk 1:68-79), and the Canticle of Simeon called the Nunc Dimittis (cf. Lk 2:29-32). (CCC 1171)
Ch 1:5-38 The visit of the Archangel Gabriel to Zechariah anticipates in some ways the story of the Annunciation, which appears later in the chapter. Both Zechariah and Mary were devout and righteous; both were told by the angel of a miraculous conception and of the role their child would play in salvation history; and both were troubled by the message. The primary difference, however, is that Zechariah doubted due to his wife’s advance age, whereas Mary believed the angel although she was perplexed as to how this conception would take place. Whereas Zechariah asked for a sign, Mary made no such request but would be given a sign anyway. The Archangel Gabriel announced both the birth of John, who was the last and greatest prophet of the coming Messiah, and the Birth of Jesus himself. (CCC 332)
Ch 1:7 They had no child: In the world portrayed in the Old Testament, childlessness was often viewed with shame and as a sign of disfavor with God. Like several key women of the Old Testament, Elizabeth would be blessed with a child through divine intervention preceded by an angelic message despite her barrenness and old age. The Church recognizes that infertility is a cross for many couples but cautions that couples may use only morally licit means in order to achieve pregnancy and/or receive children into their family. (CCC 2374-2379)
Ch 1:10-13 Hour of incense: In the Temple, priests would burn incense and offer prayers during the morning and evening sacrifices, also known as the “hour of prayer.” For most priests of that time, to burn incense in the Temple was a once-in-a-lifetime honor.
John: The name means “The Lord (YHWH) has shown favor”-reflecting the favor God has bestowed upon his once-childless parents. (CCC 25810
Ch 1:14-17 The angel foretold the prophetic mission that John the Baptist would carry out.
Filled with the Holy Spirit: John was prepared for his prophetic role by grace even before birth. The source of his grace would be Christ himself, who would be conceived by the same Holy Spirit in the womb of his own Mother.
In the spirit and power of Elijah...a people prepared: In the Old Testament, Malachi prophesied that a prophet like Elijah would return to preach repentance, reunite the tribes of Israel, heal divided families, and prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah (cf. Mal 3:1, 4:5-6). John the Baptist was not Elijah reincarnated; rather, he carried out a mission that brought to completion that of Elijah. (CCC 523, 696, 716-718, 724, 2684)
Ch 1:19 Gabriel: This Hebrew name means “My strength is God.” He had been the archangel who later appeared to Mary to announce that she was chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah. (CCC 335, 430)
Ch 1:25 Take away my reproach among men: Elizabeth’s infertility was viewed by many at that time as a sign of disfavor with God; therefore, her pregnancy was a sign of God’s blessing. (CCC 2374)
Ch 1:26-38 The account of the Annunciation manifests some basic truths about Christ. He is the Son of God conceived with a human nature by a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation was accomplished according to the divine plan, which included the free consent of Mary (CCC 723). Through her selfless “yes,” Mary became the model of faith, generosity, and complete conformity to God’s holy will. The angel’s words of greeting to Mary are the basis for the first lines of the Hail Mary. The Annunciation is the first Joyful Mystery of the Rosary as well as the basis for the Angelus. (CCC 144, 484-490, 494-497, 723, 2571)
Ch 1:28 Hail: The Greek chaire means “rejoice!”
Full of grace: The Greek kecharitomene indicates that Mary “has been and continues to be” filled with the grace of God, which is a most fitting condition to be the Mother of God. Kecharitomene also leads us to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which holds that Mary was conceived in the fullness of grace without the stain of Original Sin through the merits of her Son’s redemption. Long recognized in Catholic tradition, this dogma was proclaimed infallibly by Bl. Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus. (CCC 490-493, 722, 2676)
Ch 1:31 Jesus: This Hebrew name means literally, “the Lord (YHWH) saves,” which emphasizes both Christ’s identity and his mission. Jesus Christ-fully God and fully man-through his person, his words, and his actions, is the fullness of God’s Revelation to people, and his Sacrifice on the Cross merits the salvation of the world. (CCC 430-431, 435, 2812)
Ch 1:32-33 His father David: Although Christ was not Joseph’s natural son, under Jewish law he was considered his son and, thus, a direct descendant of David like his father.
House of Jacob: This refers to the whole kingdom of Israel, representing the twelve sons of Jacob, which had been transformed by conquest, exile, and assimilation into Gentile lands. The new kingdom founded by Christ would be the work of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 559, 709)
Ch 1:34 How can this be, since I have no husband?: Literally translated from the Greek, “I do not know man,” this statement points to Mary’s virginity. The Incarnation is a divine work that is beyond human comprehension. (CCC 484, 497-511)
Ch 1:35-37 Note how Gabriel referred to all three Persons of the Trinity: “Holy Spirit,” “Most High,” and “Son of God.”
Overshadow you: The Greek episkiasei is the same word used in the Septuagint to speak of how God “overshadowed” the Tabernacle and established his presence in Israel (epeskiazen; cf. Ex 40:35). The term also appears in the Transfiguration (epeskiazen; cf. Lk 9:34) and in Peter’s healing shadow (episkiasei; cf. Acts 5:15). The theophanies of cloud and light are often used in Scripture to indicate an unveiling of the glory of God.
With God nothing will be impossible: God can accomplish works that go beyond the realm of human possibility. Mary’s faith acknowledges the infinite power of God. We, too, recognize the omnipotence of God in the Mass when the priest addresses God as the “almighty ever-living God.” (CCC 269-276, 437, 505-507, 697)
Ch 1:38 I am the handmaid of the Lord: In giving her assent and obedience to God, Mary made a total gift of herself.
Let it be to me according to your word: Mary’s words here are of total trust and devotion to the will of God. She not only accepted God’s plan but wholeheartedly embraced it in her own life. Unsullied by even a single sin, Mary dedicated herself completely to her Son and his mission. “The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life” (LG 56; cf. LG 61). Mary is thus regarded as the New Eve as St. Irenaeus explained: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened with her faith” (Against Heresies, 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959 A). (CCC 64, 488-494, 508-510, 2617. 2827)
Ch 1:29-56 The remarkable meeting of Mary and Elizabeth teaches us about the Person of Christ and the prophetic role of John the Baptist, who leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth referred to Mary as the “mother of my Lord” and affirmed that the Christ child was a fulfillment of all that God had promised through the prophets. By virtue of the Christ child within her, the reunion of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth represents the ultimate visit of God to his people. This mutual greeting of the two women, called the Visitation, is the second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. (CCC 148, 422, 523)
Ch 1:42 Blessed are you among women...womb: These words form the second sentence of the Hail Mary. Mary is blessed because her faith manifested in her total commitment to her calling. Through her faith-filled “yes,” the Son of God came into the world. As mother of Christ, she is the Mother of all those redeemed in her Son, who form the members of his Mystical Body, the Church. Mary is also the Ark of the New Covenant, for just as the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament represented the dwelling of God on earth among his people, Mary herself bore the incarnate Son of God in her womb. (CCC 523, 717, 2676)
Ch 1:43 Mother of my Lord: Elizabeth’s words identify both Christ’s divinity and Mary’s divine Motherhood. She is the Mother of God and our Mother as well. Because of her intimate cooperation with her Son, the beautiful tradition of the Rosary-consisting of the contemplation of the mysteries of Christ’s Incarnation, public ministry, Death, and Resurrection-was developed. Some of these mysteries are celebrated in the liturgical feasts dedicated to Mary, including among them the Immaculate Conception (December 8), the Mother of God (January 1), and the Assumption (August 15). Other prayers, including the Memorare and the Regina Caeli, emphasize different tenets of the life of Christ as related to Mary. (CCC 448, 495, 967-975, 2677)
Ch 1:46-56 The Canticle of Mary, called the Magnificat from the first word of the Latin translation, is a prayer included in the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. The Magnificat is a song both of Mary, Mother of God, and of the entire People of God for the graces received and the salvation won for us through Christ. Reflecting Hannah’s canticle (cf. 1 Sm 2:1-10), the Magnificat expresses praise and joy, recalls God’s faithfulness to his people, and affirms the virtues of humility and mercy. The prayer “magnifies” God for what he has done for Mary, his humble and faithful handmaiden. The Magnificat is a wonderful testimony to Mary as our Hope and Advocate. Her great sanctity and singular role in the Redemption leads to this prophecy: “All generations will call me blessed.” The prophetic words of the Magnificat are fulfilled each time the faithful honor her with the words “Blessed are you among women” in the Hail Mary. (CCC 2097, 2465, 2619, 2622, 2675-2682)
Ch 1:57 The Nativity of John the Baptist is celebrated each year on June 24. This is the only person, besides Christ and Mary, whose birth is a liturgical celebration.
Ch 1:59-66 It was customary for Jewish families to name their male children at the time of their circumcision, which occurred on the eighth day after birth. The act of circumcision represented the initiation of the child into the covenant of Israel. (CCC 527, 1150)
Ch 1:67-80 The Canticle of Zechariah, called the Benedictus from the first word of the Latin translation, praises the faithfulness of God to his covenant with Israel. The Benedictus is recited in the Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. (CCC 422, 717)
Ch 1:73 The oath which he swore: God was faithful to the promises he made to Abraham, even though their fulfillment required the sacrifice of his only Son. (CCC 706)
Ch 2:1-7 To fulfill the requirement of the census, Joseph, as a descendant of David, needed to register in Bethlehem, the birthplace of David. This passage reaffirms that Joseph (and therefore Christ) was of the line of David and that Christ was born in Bethlehem, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Micah (cf. Mi 5:2). (CCC 488, 525)
Ch 2:7 First-born: This term does not mean to imply that Mary had more children after Christ. Rather, it was a designation given to a woman’s first male child and was accompanied by certain rights, inheritance and social standing. The Church’s teaching on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity-before, during, and after the birth of Christ-is a tenet of faith that affirms the absolute and miraculous initiative of God in bringing about the Incarnation. The Birth of Christ is the third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary and is celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity, or Christmas.
Swaddling cloths: Strips of fabric that were used to wrap newborns in such a way that prevented them from moving their arms or legs.
Manger: A feeding trough for animals here served as Christ’s cradle. (CCC 502-503, 515)
Ch 2:8-20 The angels explained to the shepherds what the Birth of Christ meant: He is God, the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah. No one expected the Messiah would come to Israel as a baby, born in the poverty of a stable, but it was precisely in such poverty that the glory of Heaven is revealed. (CCC 333, 486, 515, 695)
Ch 2:9 In each celebration of the Holy Mass, the resurrected Christ is present-Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity-and we are surrounded by the angels and the saints, especially Mary. (CCC 333, 1374)
Ch 2:14 Glory to God...pleased: The angels’ hymn inspired the opening words of the Gloria, a prayer recited in the Mass
Peace among men: The peace offered to all people is the mercy of God and communion with Christ. (CCC 333, 559, 725)
Ch 2:16 And they went with haste: The message that they had received was so important that they went immediately. The example of the shepherds teaches us the importance of making God the first priority in our lives and seeking him wholeheartedly. (CCC 437)
Ch 2:19 Mary kept...her heart: Mary pondered those things that she did not yet fully understand (cf. Lk 2:51). Through prayerful meditation, we can come to a greater understanding of the mysteries of the Faith. Some scholars consider this verse as evidence that the infancy story of Christ may have been told to Luke by Mary herself. (CCC 94, 2599)
Ch 2:21-24 Christ was circumcised on the eighth day after his Birth, an event celebrated in some liturgical calendars on the Octave of Christmas, January 1. Circumcision was a sign of joining the covenant of Israel as a descendant of Abraham (cf. Lk 1:59-66). Likewise, as required by Jewish Law, Christ’s parents brought him to the Temple forty days after his Birth for the ritual purification of Mary and his presentation as the firstborn Son. A woman’s purification following childbirth was necessary before she could worship in the Temple or handle holy objects again; it required the sacrifice of a lamb, two turtle doves, or two pigeons. Arguably, the circumstances of Mary’s conception and of the Birth of Christ did not render her impure under the Law, but she followed the Law nevertheless. The presentation ritual of a child was a “public redemption” that was necessary for any first born son of any tribe other than Levi. The parents would symbolically give their son to God and buy him back by a small monetary offering. The Presentation of Christ in the Temple is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary and is celebrated in the liturgical calendar forty days after Christmas on February 2. This feast is also called Candlemas (“Candle Mass”) to emphasize that Christ is the Light of the World as predicted by Simeon. For this reason, candles are blessed on this day for use throughout the year. (CCC 435, 527, 529, 583, 1245)
Ch 2:25-38 Mary’s faith never wavered as she trusted fully in God’s Word. She, more than any other person in history, experienced and shared intimately in the mystery of the redemptive suffering that Christ endured for our salvation. The Canticle of Simeon, called Nunc Dimittis from the first words of the Latin Translation, is recited in the Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. (CCC 149, 575, 587, 618, 695)
Ch 2:25 Consolation of Israel: The coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer-this term, as well as “redemption of Jerusalem,” indicates that both Simeon and Anna were awaiting the Messiah and found their longing fulfilled in the Christ child. (CCC 711)
Ch 2:32 This language identifying the Messiah is reminiscent of the Servant Song of the prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 49:5-6). (CCC 713)
Ch 2:36-38 Anna’s commitment to celibacy, asceticism, and constant prayer resembles that of the contemplative religious orders and communities that eventually developed in the Church and remain active today.
Fasting: A discipline or mortification of foregoing food with the intent of bringing about spiritual good. It has always been a highly recommended practice in the Catholic Church and is required of the faithful on prescribed days during Lent and for an hour prior to receiving Holy Communion. (CCC 711, 1387, 2687)
Ch 2:39-40 Nazareth was a poor, unremarkable town in Galilee that was never mentioned in the Old Testament. These two sentences summarize the life of Christ from his infancy up until about the age of twelve. (CCC 513, 533-551)
Ch 2:41-52 Passover, which begins on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan, is a feast that commemorates the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. At the time of Christ, all Jewish men were required to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. The men often brought their families and traveled in caravans with other families, with men and women travelling in separate groups and various children in both groups. It was within this arrangement that Christ’s absence from the caravan was not immediately noticed. Christ’s response at being found in the Temple indicated that he understood his identity as the Son of God and his mission to redeem humanity. This incident points to the Passion that would occur in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary continued to accept their Son’s mission with humble faith. Christ’s three days in the Temple can also be seen as a prefiguration of his three days in the tomb before his Resurrection. (CCC 534, 583, 2599)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
As we close the Old Testament and turn to open the New Testament, it is easy to think we are finishing one book and moving on to an altogether new story with its own characters, themes, and plot.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Even though there will be new characters and even new themes in the New Testament, the same plot that began back in Genesis stretches into and through the life of Christ and his Church.
The New Testament must, therefore, be read in light of the Old, and the Old Testament story finds its climax and fulfillment in the New.
All of God’s words and actions, his promises and covenants, his words through the prophets, will find their “yes” in his Son, Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:20).
The Jewish experience of relative independence under the Maccabean Hasmonean dynasty was short-lived, as a new power from the west, Rome, swept through the world and the Jews found themselves once again under foreign rule awaiting the promised messiah.
It is into this historical and cultural setting that Jesus Christ is born in the quiet town of Bethlehem in the hill country of Judea.
After fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s lethal command, Jesus and the Holy Family return and settle in Nazareth.
With his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus’ public ministry begins and in three short years many in Judea and Galilee hear his teaching and preaching, and experience his healing power.
But his message of repentance and the establishment of the kingdom of God will threaten the Jewish authorities who, rather than rejoicing at the coming of the long-awaited Davidic king and messiah, pressure Pilate to condemn Jesus to his death.
Jesus offers his life as a willing sacrifice, atoning for sin, and opening the gates of heaven.
The life of Jesus will divide this period into its four acts.
Act one describes the historical setting into which the new Davidic king is born.
Act two describes Jesus’ public ministry and key aspects of Jesus teaching throughout Judea and Galilee.
Act three focuses on Jesus’ passion and death, which climaxes the story of Israel.
Act four recounts Jesus’ resurrection and his encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Act 1: A King is Born
In 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey conquered Palestine, putting Israel once again under foreign occupation.
Rome was the fourth Gentile nation to rule over Israel since the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 587 BC.
As the fourth of Daniel’s beasts, Rome was to be the Jews’ worst oppressor, but Rome’s rule also brought hope, for the fourth beast marked the last pagan tyranny before the long-awaited messiah vindicated God’s people (Dn 2, 7).
Not long after Pompey returns to Rome, another Roman general, Julius Caesar, takes his veteran 13th Legion across the Rubicon and into the city of Rome, sparking a civil war that transforms the Roman Republic into an autocratic empire.
Julius’ victories are short-lived, as he is betrayed by his friend Marcus Brutus and a group of senators attempting to reestablish the Republic, on the Ides of March (March 15th) in the year 44 BC.
But Julius Caesar’s heir and adopted son, Octavian, later named Augustus, quickly rises to power and defeats Julius’ enemies.
Through a series of civil wars, he takes total control of the empire, ushering in the famous Pax Romana, an age of Roman prosperity and peace.
Caesar Augustus proposes legislation to a reluctant Roman Senate, declaring Julius to be a god, Divus Iulius, after which Augustus declares that if his father was a god, then Augustus was divi filius, “son of god.”
Temples quickly arise throughout the Roman Empire for the worship of Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, and Caesar Augustus puts forth a massive propaganda campaign supporting the imperial cult and thus Roman rule.
The birthday of Caesar Augustus was celebrated as “good news” to the world, for he was the bringer of peace, the savior of the world who ended the terrible political volatility of Rome and ushered in a time of unrivaled unification and prosperity.
The term “gospel” in the Roman world had Caesar as its subject, and it told the story of Caesar’s rule as the hope of humanity and the source of all good and unity.
Of course, it was Rome that was made prosperous, and peace came by the violent imposition of Roman power, most graphically illustrated by the brutal imposition of crucifixion for any who rebelled.
Herod the Great
For the Jews, the only thing worse than Augustus’ blasphemous claims of divinity was the tyrant he set over them to keep them at peace by the point of the sword while taxing them into poverty for the wealth of Caesar and his empire.
Herod the Great, a Roman client king, ruled the Jews with an iron fist, from Judea to Galilee.
No one but the emperor possessed more wealth and engendered more fear than Herod, who was perhaps the greatest builder and businessman of the first century.
Herod dedicated three cities to Caesar Augustus, where he built temples for the imperial cult: Caesarea Maritime, Caesarea Philippi, and the renamed ancient capital of Samaria, Caesarea.
Herod built palaces for himself that were unrivaled in beauty and luxury, with large swimming pools, hot tubs, sculptures, frescoes, and the finest architecture of the time.
Herod’s luxury palaces could be found throughout his kingdom, from as far north as his port city Caesarea Maritime to the wilderness of Judaea, where his fortress palace of Masada guarded his southern borders.
Caesar Augustus bestowed upon Herod the Great the title “King of the Jews,” which Herod tried to validate by marrying a princess from the Hasmonean dynasty named Miriam.
But since he was an Idumaean (descendants of the Edomites from Jacob’s brother, Esau), most Jews did not accept Herod or his dynasty as legitimate.
The rightful king was to be of the house of David, from the tribe of Judah.
Herod took King Solomon as his model, pushing his borders, treasury, and building projects to surpass those of Solomon.
Herod rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, making it far grander than Solomon’s.
Indeed, it took 10,000 men ten years just to build the retaining wall for the Temple Mount, the size of which was over thirty-one acres.
On his coins, Herod not only depicted himself as a priest-king like Solomon, he also depicted the Greek letter X (pronounced “chi,” signifying the Greek word christos, meaning “anointed one” or “messiah”) within a diadem, signifying the crown of the high priest, and the image of a pomegranate, which adorned the high priest’s vestments (Ex 28:33-34).
What Herod lacked in hereditary legitimacy, he claimed by power and propaganda.
The one thing Herod did not possess was mercy.
He was so ruthless that Augustus once quipped that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son (“pig” and “son” rhyme in Greek, and kosher laws prohibited the eating of pork).
Herod had his two most beloved sons and his favorite wife killed out of envy and paranoia, and he killed many who questioned his leadership or appeared to be a threat to his rule.
Once one understands Herod’s perilous combination of ruthless power matched with boundless paranoia, Matthew’s account of Herod slaughtering the innocent children of Bethlehem is all too consistent with his other murderous actions.
Luke, like the other gospel writers, intends the story of Jesus to be read in the light of the story of Israel.
Indeed, the early Christians believed that in Jesus the story of Israel was at last reaching its long-awaited climax and resolution.
Given the role Gabriel played in the story of Israel, the angel’s presence in the opening scenes of Jesus’ infancy narrative has rich meaning.
Seventy years after Israel’s exile to Babylon, the prophet Daniel prayed for the end of Gentile rule and Israel’s exile.
Gabriel appears to Daniel, who is praying at the hour of the Temple sacrifice, and tells Daniel that his prayer has been heard (this is the same time of day and the same message that Gabriel brings to Zechariah when he is ministering in the Temple [Lk 1:11]).
Gabriel announces to Daniel that Israel’s exile will last not seventy years, but seventy times seven years; the era of Gentile rule, the time of the four beasts (pagan nations), will last 490 years (Dn 9:21-24).
But Gabriel also announces that a messiah (anointed king) will come.
The fact that Gabriel, of all the angels, is now sent to Zechariah and then Mary indicates that the time of exile is now over, and the time for the anointed messiah is at hand!
Gabriel comes at the outset and ending of the 490 years.
Emmanuel, God with Us
With Gabriel’s words and Mary’s “yes” to God’s plan, Jesus is conceived in Mary’s womb, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, “‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Mt 1:23; see Is 7:14).
With Jesus’ Incarnation, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).
For Matthew, the message that God is with us is the heart of the good news.
He not only begins his gospel illustrating Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophetic title Emmanuel, he ends his story with this very theme, illustrated in Jesus’ closing words of the gospel, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).
Gabriel describes the child that Mary will bear as royal and messianic: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).
Jesus fulfills both the great covenant oath made to David that one of his line will rule forever and be God’s own Son (2 Sam 7) and also the covenant promise that Abraham’s name will be made great with a royal dynasty (Gn 12:1-3; 17:6).
This royal proclamation is confirmed when Elizabeth greets Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant bearing God’s presence conceived in her womb, and exclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:42-43).
This passage only makes sense in the context of the Davidic Kingdom of old, in which the mother of the king—the gebirah—was queen over Israel.
Elizabeth greets Mary with the respect due to the queen of Israel, praising the new Davidic king and his queen mother.
A New Ark of the Covenant
St. Luke, in his account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-56), alludes to the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6) by repeating numerous words and phrases from the latter. Both Mary and David “rose and went” to the hill country of Judah.
David asks, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” just as Elizabeth asks how is it “that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
David is described as “leaping” before the ark in joy, just as John the Baptist “leaped” for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.
And Mary remains “three months” with Elizabeth just as the ark remained “three months” in the house of Obededom, bringing blessing to all his household.
Luke deliberately notes these parallels to highlight Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant, who became the dwelling place of God when the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her, and the Second Person of the Trinity was conceived in her womb.
The book of Revelation show this relationship between Mary and the ark when it passes immediately from a heavenly vision of the ark (Rv 11:19) to the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rv 12:1).
The story of Jesus’ birth is shot through with royal imagery.
The angels bring “good news” to the shepherds “for all people”: a child is born who is the “Savior” and “Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).
Calling the birth of Jesus “good news” and ascribing titles such as “Savior,” “Christ,” and “Lord” was subversive to the story of Caesar.
Luke highlights the irony that Caesar Augustus’ census sets in motion events that lead to the prophetic fulfillment of Jesus, being born in Bethlehem, the city of David.
Caesar’s will falls under the larger plans of God’s providence, showing that there is a Ruler far above the emperor whose long-awaited plan is being executed.
When the wise men come to Jerusalem seeking the newborn king of the Jews whose sign they have noted in the firmament, as Balaam’s oracle had prophesied (Nm 24:17), they find Herod an old man in his last days.
Herod inquires of the scribes, who find the prophet’s words that Bethlehem, the city of David, is the place of the messiah’s birth.
Herod sends the wise men off, asking them to return with the child’s location.
But Herod has homicide rather than homage in mind, and when Herod realizes that they have taken an alternative route, he sends his soldiers out to the ancient hometown of the true king of the Jews.
But before Herod’s soldiers carry out their ruthless slaughter, an angel warns Joseph in a dream, and he takes the baby king and his mother, Mary, down to Egypt for refuge.
The simple story of flight to Egypt recalls an earlier journey to Egypt when Jacob’s son Joseph provided refuge for the sons of Israel in Egypt.
Now St. Joseph brings Jesus, the new Israel, into the refuge of Egypt.
No words or deeds of the infant Jesus are recorded in this brief story, but his itinerary hints that signs and wonders are soon to follow.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)