The Mystery of the Incarnation

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent (Year B) – Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38; This series appears each Wednesday.

Photography © by Andy Coan

“Mystery,” he sneered.  “That’s a good Catholic word.”

My friend was a fundamentalist who had more than a bit of antipathy towards the Catholic Church, charging that it added to the simple faith of the Bible.

But he didn’t read his bible very well. The word “mystery” is a Catholic word, only because it is a biblical word. Paul speaks of “the mystery hidden for many ages but now manifested (Rom 16:25-26).

Mystery means something very specific in this context. It’s not exactly about a thrilling novel with a surprise ending, but it’s actually close. Mystery is about a plan that God is working through the course of everyday human events.

  • People falling in love and getting married.
  • Kids being born, growing up and themselves having kids.
  • One nation warring against another.

All these things you can see. But there is a hidden purpose of God that is being accomplished underneath it all and through it all. This you can’t quite see. And most importantly, you can’t quite see where it is all going.

For a long while Israel had no king but God. Then, humiliated by defeat at the hands of the Philistines, they cried out for a warrior king. They got a bad one in Saul. But then came David; a man after God’s own heart. He danced before the Ark of the Covenant, slew Goliath, and built Israel into an empire. But he was not allowed to build God a house. Instead, God promised to build him a house, which is to say, a dynasty. This dynasty was to have no end, in fact (2 Sam 7:8-16).

Centuries later, it appeared that God’s promise had failed. The last Davidic king was dragged off to captivity in Babylon and the throne was vacant for 500 years. Just when hope seemed to be lost, the Angel Gabriel was sent to a Virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the very tribe of David (Lk 1:26-38). She is given shocking news – she is to become the mother of the messiah, which to any Jew of the time meant the anointed king of Judah, the successor of David. To be called “Son of the Most High” was nothing new for the Davidic King. This was one of his traditional titles. But Gabriel says that his reign will be without end. Now this is not traditional – kings, like everyone else, die. How could he rule forever and ever?

But that question paled in comparison with the one that burned in Mary’s heart and made its way out of her mouth: “how can this be since I’ve never been intimate with a man?” Gabriel’s response to this question was even more difficult to believe than what he’d previously said. It seems that this child would be brought into this world without the help of a human father. Mary would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit so that the title “Son of God” traditionally given to the king of Judah would take on an entirely new meaning.

So THIS is what God had been up to all along. THIS had been what all the patriarchs, prophets, and kings had been preparing for. The mystery is coming to a climax. The title “Emmanuel,” God-with-us, that had been given to an earlier king, is going to take on an unheard-of meaning.  God was about to be born in human flesh. He was coming as king to do what kings had always done in Israel–save God’s people by vanquishing their enemies. But the mortal foe to be beaten was mortality itself. This is how he would reign forever – and how we’d be able to reign forever with him.

That final battle and ultimate victory would have to wait a few years though. The wood of the cross must be preceded by the wood of the manger. In the Mystery of God’s plan of salvation, all must happen in its proper time.

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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