The fourth week of Advent is very short this year. It begins at midnight on Sunday and ends at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, Christmas Eve. The readings for this Sunday point us to places and events that precede the birth of Jesus – exalting the tiny city of Bethlehem and recalling Mary’ssolicitous visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Both offer contrasts and insights that shed light on thearrival of the Messiah. Bethlehem, the city of David’s birth, is insignificant among all the im-portant cities in Israel and yet from it will come the descendant of David who fulfills the promised lineage and bring Messianic harmony and peace. Mary, in the mystery of her own pregnancy, rushes to be with her cousin, a barren woman who has also been miraculously touched by God and called to bring forth life. Elizabeth and her unborn child represent the old covenant and Mary the beginning of the new covenant to be fulfilled through the child in her womb. Eliza-beth’s infant “leaps” at the approach of the promised one, suggesting his recognition even whileboth are still in their mothers’ womb.