Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 24, 2023

Year B


Discover the deeper meaning and connections found in this week's readings, through these great commentaries written by our priests.

The Word

Explore this week's readings and hear what God is saying to us through His Word.

Liturgy notes

Find out more about how we can mark this special day in our liturgy.


See our music recommendations for the liturgy.


Mgr Canon Jeremy Garratt

The bible is wonderful. All life is there. Today’s Gospel is a case in point. The drama behind the words is worthy of a soap opera. The reading tells of Joseph’s turmoil at finding that Mary, the girl he was betrothed to marry, was pregnant - and he knew it was not his child. Now betrothal in terms of the time and culture was much more binding than engagement. It meant that the couple were actually married, but they had not yet come to live together, which simply means that Joseph had not yet brought his bride across the threshold of his house, formally taking her into his care and assuming responsibility for her from her father. This is the scenario behind the story of the ten bridesmaids.

Joseph had yet to arrange this ceremony of formal adoption of Mary as his wife when he discovered she was pregnant. He knew, of course, that he was not the father, so this was evidence of Mary’s adultery.  We can imagine Joseph’s turmoil.  His sense of betrayal would surely wrestle with his dismay and disbelief that this innocent, gentle, beautiful and demur girl could possibly have engaged in sexual congress with another man.  But the evidence was irrefutable.

Adultery was technically punishable by stoning to death. That Joseph clearly loved Mary dearly meant that he could not possibly expose her to that possibility and he was wrestling with how he could ‘put her away quietly’. In fact, this would be difficult. There was only divorce and to take that option would not only open up speculation as to why Joseph would want to cut himself off from his new bride but would also condemn Mary to a lifetime of being ostracised and unmarriageable.  This would means she would have no means of support for her and her child and for, many women in that position, prostitution was the only option for survival.

A terrible dilemma for the just and good man Joseph.  It was happily resolved by the appearance of the angel to let him know the extraordinary and incredible truth of Mary’s conception and who the child was that she was bearing.  Joseph, being a man of honour, was now prepared to take the shame of, apparently, having got his wife pregnant before their betrothal, but he weighed up that this was a small price to pay for facilitating the greatest event in the whole of human history.

Our Saviour was born into a situation of human scandal with the spectre of illegitimacy and adultery hanging over his conception, and the circumstance of his birth, as a member of the royal family, in a filthy stable with no proper roof over his head, laid in a manger instead of an ornate cot, surrounded not by courtiers or even family, with no midwife, but only lowly animals and humble shepherds to witness the event.

In his later ministry Jesus continued this countercultural stance, eating with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners, touching lepers, healing the sick who, according to the thinking of the day, were only to blame for their plight because of their sins. In the Gospel today Matthew reminds us that Jesus is Emmanuel, a name which means God-is-with-us, and this means he is with us, in Jesus, in all the circumstances of our lives, but most importantly, he is close to the sick, the sinner, the outcast and the broken-hearted, and he commends these to us too, not for our judgment, but for our love and care.

4th Sunday of Advent

Catholicism of the Catholic Church References:
CCC 484-494: the Annunciation
CCC 439, 496, 559, 2616: Jesus is the Son of David
CCC 143-149, 494, 2087: the "obedience of faith"

Liturgy notes

Fr Derek Reeve

Both the Old Testament Reading and the Gospel reading speak of the dwelling of God among us, with the people of Israel rather than in a ‘house of cedar’ and in the womb of Mary. So this might be an opportunity to emphasise that God dwells among the people of the parish community through the power of the Holy Spirit who guides them and recalling the Synodal process in which we are all still engaged. Maybe suggest the saying of the Angelus regularly to remind us that he "dwells among us’’?

Music recommendations

Hymns have been chosen from the Laudate Hymnal:

113 The Angel Gabriel

114 When the Angel came to May

116 Long ago, prophets knew

330 Holy is his name

340 My soul proclaims you, mighty God

Any questions?

Do you have questions about the liturgy and how we are called to participate in it? Explore how the Church councils, saints, and popes have answered this key question and many more.

Discover the Mass

Every movement of the Mass is rich in meaning but we can become over-familiar with it. Rediscover the Mass and explore how it relates to the Exodus story, where many of its rituals come from, and how it makes Jesus present to us today.