text :: Matthew 1: 1 - 17
theme verse :: "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (Mt1:1)
It's a text that we skip quite often because it's hard to read, but it's here that we see just what it meant for the Divine to take on Human form. It took generations. It took men and women, of deep faithfulness and flawed personality. And it takes us. HOPE is the first step of the Advent season; it is exactly where we come to expect the unexpected.
offertory :: 'Hyfrodol' (R.H.Prichard/arr.P.Kern) : Susie Monger-Daugherty, piano
anthem :: 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' (arr.Rouse) : Chancel Choir; Kelly Ford, director; Pete Peterson, cello
preaching :: Rev Kevin Howe
response :: 'New Wine' (HillsongWorship) : The Rising Band; Isaac Herbert, leader; Andi Gross, lead vocal
Matthew 1: 1 – 17
1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Alright, everybody take a deep breath. We survived! If you recall, last Sunday I offered some advice about how to grab people’s attention in your writing and may I add to that by suggesting that starting with a list of names is not the best way to do that. But that is precisely what the author of the gospel of Matthew has done.
I can’t tell you how many times I have skipped over the genealogy of Jesus in my own reading of Matthew. Reviewing a list of names is not necessarily what I feel like I should be getting out of my time with the Bible. Surely there is something more important to attend to in the scriptures; it hardly seems prudent to spend our time stumbling through names we can hardly pronounce.
My first impulse would be to fast-forward to the next part of the gospel story, you know, the part where the plot thickens and a mother gives birth in a manager and there is this whole unlikely cast of characters gathered around them, and we are all back in this space lifting candles together, singing “Christ the Savior is born!” But we’re not there yet. We have this season in which we must wait.
There aren’t a whole lot of us that are good at waiting. I mean, it’s hard to wait for a green light these days without having a glance at the ol’ cell phone screen. And in this holiday season there are a number of things that we could potentially do to fill our time and distract us in our waiting: decorating the house, hitting the retail stores, watching sappy Hallmark Christmas movies with their myriad of variations on the same plotline. I bet we could put together a pretty comprehensive list of things we could do to distract ourselves from the seeming discomfort of waiting. And we would be the poorer for having done so.
As life throws more occasions at me where all I can do is simply wait, it makes more sense to me now than ever before that the Christian liturgical year begins with a season of waiting. Advent kicks off today, and it is a tradition that begs us to slow down. We are afforded this sacred space—this pregnant pause—to practice the spiritual discipline of waiting and have a closer look at the things we’ve missed in our otherwise distracted lives. That is our intention in this Advent worship series, to look at the things we’ve glossed over, and we begin at the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel, with the tree of Jesse—that is how many refer to the lineage that leads to Jesus.
Genealogy—the study of families and family history—has exploded in popularity these last few years with the dawn of ancestry.com, the largest of several online genealogical and historical archives. The company boasts millions of subscribers and a net worth well into the billions. Perhaps you, too, have swabbed your cheek in the name of science and to shed some light on your genetic stock. There have been some wild stories that have emerged from this genealogical endeavor. Families reconnected. People discovering that they have siblings that they didn’t know about. Adults and children alike uncovering that their biological parents may not be those who they have come to know as mom and dad.
For many of us, though, our desire to investigate our family tree is more of a psychological thing. We humans are have this inherent need to place our lives in the context of a story that is bigger than ourselves. And for many there is a sort of hope that if we can track down our ancestors we will uncover our roots, our past, and things we can take pride in; a family heritage that will assign more meaning to our living.
To the Jewish community, however, genealogies carried even more importance. This is why when you study the Scriptures, it isn’t long before you start running into them. Unlike many of today’s cultures, genealogies were critical in determining a number of things for the Jewish community. Ancestry determined one’s claim on land as well as one’s right of inheritance. Should a person come along and claim that they had a right to a property, or an estate, determination of the validity of that claim would be placed upon genealogical verification.
At that time, ancestry also established the basis of taxation. That’s why Joseph and Mary ended up in the strange predicament of having their baby in a back-country stable; because they were headed to pay their taxes in Bethlehem, as part of the house and line of David. You see, one had to go back to the ancestral grounds of his family, where their genealogical records were kept, and on the basis of those records, taxation was assessed. And here you thought that taxes have had a significant role in your life…but you weren’t born in a manager because of them!
Beyond all this, and even more importantly, any claim to the priesthood or to royalty, had to be verified by proof of the family lineage. So, if someone wanted to claim, for example, that they were—I don’t know—the Messiah (the chosen one)—they would need to be able to show royal pedigree going back to the great King David himself.
All this is to say that we see so many genealogies in Scripture because they were important in a different kind of way than we see them now. Still, I believe that if we were to take some time exploring Jesus’ family tree, I’m sure we’d uncover many things that are familiar to us.
For example, we love uncovering that there are famous people in our family, and Jesus’ happens to have connection to more than a handful of A-list celebrities. Matthew’s genealogy begins with one such man: Abraham. He is the grand patriarch of three of the major faith traditions in the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. His name is right up there with some of the most famous people of history. And yet for all that might be said of his reputation, it all began when he heard the call of God to “go,” and he went. He didn’t even know where he was supposed to go, but he went anyway. Funny how much that man trusted his God.
Of course, Abraham isn’t the only well-known celebrity in Jesus’ family tree. You’ve likely heard of Judah. Even if you haven’t heard his story, I guarantee you’ve heard his name. He gave his name to the people, Judeans—the Jews. He gave his name to the land, the land of Judah. He gave his name to the religion, Judaism. Judah was an important guy.
Oh, and there’s King David. He’s a guy you’ve likely heard about (he’s kind of a big deal). You’ll notice in the scripture we read this morning that the first part of Jesus’ family tree leads up to David, and the rest of the family flows away from him. David was a titan of a figure; a renaissance man in the truest sense of the word. His Facebook bio would have likely read: Shepherd, musician, poet, soldier, king. David was also a complex character; suffering from the same powerful contradictions we all do. He had this immense capacity to weep over his own sin and could be as cold and calculating in it.
We love having famous people in our family. But the flip side of that is that there are those in our families that…well…we wish were not! In your exploration of who you are related to, you are likely to come across some less-than savory characters. Jesus’ family has its share of them. There was Manasseh, who became king when he was just a spring chicken; age 12. This may not come as a surprise to you: he was a terrible king. He stayed in power though compromise and generally lacked conviction to stand for his people.
There was Tamar. You remember Tamar, right? She was bound and determined to get into Judah’s family by any means necessary. In her case, those means involved seduction…and a goat (hmm? Add that story to your Good Reads list). And then was Rahab, whose profession remains questionable and tends to get left out of the children’s Sunday School lessons. Look every family has some folks that are not held in the same esteem as the rest. And depending on the extent to which our families feel that they must protect the reputation of the family name, there will be efforts to try to write them out of the history books.
But people have been left out of family trees for lesser things. It is unfortunate that we don’t see any shout out to Abraham’s wife, Sarah, or his grand-daughter, Rebekah, or his granddaughter-in-law, Rachel. I regret that very much. You and I have heard a bit about their stories, but it is the reality that in those times, as it is often still today, a woman’s legacy rode on the name of the men in her life. But there are women in Jesus family tree. I already mentioned Tamar and Rahab. There’s also Bathsheba. Okay, she wasn’t mentioned by her name in our passage; she’s simply referred to as “Uriah’s wife,” and she was. Except King David sent Uriah off to die in war so that he could have an affair with her. But it is the offspring of Bathsheba that leads to Jesus.
Then there’s Ruth, the Moabite women who loved her mother-in-law so much that she has become the prototypical example of fidelity.
It strikes me that there are so many women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. It also strikes me that none of them are Jews. Did you think about that? Tamar was an Arab. Bathsheba was a Palestinian. Ruth was what we would call a Jordanian today. And I can’t help but wonder if it is not coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth, the one who would show God’s love for Jew and Gentile alike, would come from a family that is full of such a great diversity of nationalities.
Now, I would be remiss if I spoke of the Tree of Jesse without mentioning Mary and Joseph. Mary the mother of Jesus. Joseph…is he the father? Well, yes. And no. And yes. You know as well as I do that families are complex, even in Jesus case. We come to discover that family are those who claim us and care for us. Whether that family is genetically linked with us, or not, is often less important than some might make it out to be. However, with all the genealogical work that has been done over the last years, we are beginning to realize that perhaps we are connected than we would imagine.
If each of us were to trace our families back far enough we would soon uncover that we share common ancestors, at which point the fascination of our lineage wanes and the underlying truth starts to materialize: we are all related. Genealogists estimate that the most recent common ancestor of all humans lived just a few thousand years ago. Let that sink in for a minute. That means that there was someone, a specific man or woman, who probably lived in either Egypt or Babylonia during the classical period, to whom we can all trace our ancestry. And assuming an average generation time of 20 years, this means that we are all roughly 120th cousins.1 How about that, family!?
That’s pretty interesting, though our faith tells us as much. From the get-go the stories of scripture tell us that we are all children of God. And those stories tell us that families are much like our lives: messy and complicated. That is a very human reality. But this holiday season, when there will be lots of family activity, I pray that you will pause to remember that God has always been in the business of working in and among our relationships. And God chose to enter our human family and, in doing so, restored our place in the household of God. And that is the greatest family any of us could have asked for.
As we wait this advent season to celebrate the arrival of Jesus, I pray that you will take pride in who and whose you are in the family of Christ, and that you will carry the hope that comes with knowing that God is already at work among us.
Oh, and don’t forget to save room for Jesus at the family gatherings.
1 Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D. “The Meaning and Meaninglessness of Genealogy: Researching our family background is all the rage, but what does it all mean?” Jan 29, 2018