There are no unnecessary words in Torah or Gospel. For the first reading in the Fourth Sunday of Advent we read, “You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.” “Bethlehem,” often appears without the Ephrathah qualifier. Why is it here?
One dictionary explains how the root of the word is “Fruit.” “Fruit,” is a word of Semitic origin. Another dictionary, Jastrow’s explains how it comes from the same root as “Euphrates,” a river that divides as one travels north and west. Let us look how the passage changes if we assume the latter. “The Name will give them up.” The reference is to the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. The people are divided and sent to foreign lands. “ “His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” His greatness divides as we reach out in diaspora to the ends of the earth.
The Didache reads, “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.” After partaking of the Eucharist we read, “Remember, Kyrie, Your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for your kingdom which you have prepared for it…” Our church/House of Kyrie/God, is our Parish home. “Parish,” is also Greek, as is “Parochial,” for travelers with God. We are fellow travelers who pray that God will make us one.
Liturgy divides many churches today. Should we sing the old songs or come up with new ones. Should we revert to Latin, or stay with English. Our second reading answers: God does not desire sacrifices. God is not that interested in liturgy. Liturgy is when we gather from the four winds, and dedicate ourselves to God, coming to do his will. If we do not understand the words of liturgy, how can liturgy teach us his will? “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard from their many words.” Matthew 6:7. If God listens to the heartfelt meaning of the words, and the words mean nothing, there is nothing for God to hear. God wants us to be simple as sheep, with simple liturgy, speaking to the heart. He wants people coming as the crumbs of bread from the four winds to do his will. What is his will?
“My animate being proclaims the greatness of the NAME; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. He looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” He wants a nation, a people born of common heritage who rejoice in his presence. This includes songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. Ephesians 5:19
“His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly” This is his will. We wants us dispersing those of arrogant of mind, who do not feel they have to listen to others. These people make unilateral decision on behalf of their charges and do not listen to those with different opinions than their own. They already know the truth. There is no need to listen. God wants who listen. “The hungry he filled with nobility; the rich he sent away empty.” God’s will is for us to do something about the wide and growing income gap between the rich and poor. “He helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham (E Pluribus Unum) and to his descendants forever.” He wants us to be a people of heritage, remembering where we came from, and making sure this does not happen to others.