Christmas 1 (NL1) John B. Valentine
Matthew 1:1-17 January 1, 2023
“WHAT’S ON THE FAMILY TREE?”
Did any of you perchance watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special over the course of the past month???
I didn’t ... but if memory serves ... and I’ll admit that it doesn’t always ‘serve’ these days ... Linus began his telling of the Christmas story this way:
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph ... before they lived together ... she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
Linus ... like most people ... recounts the version of the Christmas story told in the Gospel of Luke.
Heck ... Luke’s version is the version which we read around here on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for that matter ... so Linus was in good company .... with Mary and Joseph ... and the angels and the shepherds ... and Bethlehem and the manger and all.
But that’s not the way it is for Matthew.
No ... Saint Matthew ... the gospel writer ... the one who put to paper the account of the Christmas story that we’ll be reading our gospel lesson next Sunday ... his story starts a little bit different.
• Not in Bethlehem ....
• Not in Nazareth ...
• Not in Jerusalem ... for that matter ...
But in a place called “Ur of the Chaldees” ... a far piece from the Promised Land.
You see ... Matthew’s account begins like this:
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham ... and Abraham was born in “Ur of the Chaldees” in what is now southern Iraq
• and Abraham was the father of Isaac,
• and Isaac the father of Jacob,
• and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
• and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar,
• and Perez the father of Hezron,
• and so on and so on and so on ....
All the way down to:
• and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
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.
That’s some pretty fascinating stuff ... huh?????
Right up there with watching paint dry!
It’s just a list of the names of all the forefathers ... and at least some of the foremothers .. of Jesus.
Jesus’ genealogy ... his family tree ... his roots ... as it were.
But to what end?
Why does Saint Matthew think it is so important to include the genealogy of Jesus at the start of his gospel?
Why does it matter what Joseph’s pedigree papers read like ... since Luke tells us that Joseph wasn’t even the biological father of Jesus anyway?
And why did anyone think it would be a good idea to have us read it as this morning’s gospel lesson??
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You know ... maybe the way to answer that question is to ask ourselves why any of us ever spend any time looking at ... and/or wondering about ... our own family trees. You see:
• It used to be that someone in your family would have a copy of “the family Bible” ... and in the frontspiece of that Bible would be a place where someone had penned in a copy of the family tree ... back four or five or even six generations.
• Then the computer age hit ... you could go to Fry’s back when Fry’s was still a thing and pick up a computer program to help you chart your family tree in more detail.
• Then the Internet became king ... and Ancestry.com cornered the genealogy market.
• And now there’s those DNA test kits ... that help you figure out your place in the human ancestry matrix with just a check swab or a saliva test.
All told ... it would appear that Americans spend upwards of ten billion dollars a year on tools to help that trace their family histories and find out more about their origins!!
Because somehow ... we’re aware that knowing something about our family history may tell us something about us.
Because somehow ... we’ve come to realize that our family stories and family histories and genealogies may help us see ourselves in connection to a larger picture.
But what does Jesus’ genealogy tells us about Jesus? What does Jesus’ family history tell us about Him?
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We don’t have time to go through ALL the details of that text ... but lt me suggest just a couple of things:
FOR ONE ... this long list of names tells us something about the pace at which God works.
I know that we live in an age:
• where a “long time” is any movie that lasts over two-and-a-half hours ... or any football game that goes more than three ...
• where time is of the essence ...
• where delays are despised ...
• where we lose interest in something simply because its not the freshest item on the national agenda ...
But the pace at which God works is not our pace ... and God’s sense of timing is radically different than our own... and God doesn’t get bored and lose interest in things as rapidly as do we! (Thank God for that!)
All those names in that genealogy ... all those generations upon generations ... are a wonderful reminder to all of us that God doesn’t lose interest ... and doesn’t lose heart ... in the same way as do we.
If you’ve ever though that God has gives up on you or gotten bored with you or lost interest in you ... think again!
These “generations upon generations” are proof positive that God IS steadfast and faithful and patient and everlasting and “from this day on and forevermore” ... in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine.
And there is certainly some Good News in that.
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AND SECONDLY ... these names ... this family tree ... the genealogy ... tells us a whole lot of little somethings about those through whom God works.
Now I don’t expect that you would know too very many of those names in that family tree ... but look at just a few of them.
• Matthew’s accounting of the genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham ... does it not???
Which is Matthew’s way of noting that Jesus is a Jew’s Jew ... and a right heir of all the promises which God made to the Israelites right from the get-go and that there’s no arguing that Jesus is an outsider or somehow less than legit.
• Then there’s Isaac ... the one who ... you may recall ... was about to become the victim of a human sacrifice at the hands of his dad ... until God intervened and put the kibosh on that whole human sacrifice routine.
• Then there’s Jacob ... the one whose name literally means the “cheater” ... the “con-artist” ... the “crook.” The one who lived up to his name on more than one occasion but was nonetheless still chosen by God!!
But now here’s where thing really start to get curious!
• That line that says that Judah was “the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” ... THAT hints at a pretty sordid tale.
You see ... Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law ... not once but twice!! ... and she wanted to do the right thing ... but went about it in the wrong way ... and ended up fathering twin sons with her father-in-law. Eeeeeeew!!!
But the fact that both those boys are listed in the genealogy of Jesus is sort of a potent reminder that the sins of the parents do not de-legitimize the children ... that the family of God is NOT a perfect family but human family ... and that’s a good thing for ALL of us ... because none of OUR families are perfect either.
• Then ... a little bit farther down there’s mention that “Salmon is the father of Boaz by Rahab” ...
Now I don’t know if you remember the movie “Pretty Woman” ... with Julia Roberts playing that “hooker with a heart of gold” ...
But that character that Julia Roberts plays in that movie has its archetype in Rahab.
• Then ... right after that ... there’s a mention of Ruth the foreigner ... the woman who ... out of loyalty to her mother-in-law ... makes one of the most memorable faith statements of all time.
Anyone perchance remember Ruth’s remarkable words???
“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
• And then that fateful line “And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah” ....
Which we looked into earlier this Fall ... and in so doing discovered that Bathsheba ... the wife of Uriah ... was the victim of sexual assault at the hands of the most powerful man in the land ... and that ... ultimately ... King David had her husband murdered because he wanted her for his own.
This whole litany of the genealogy of Jesus is a reminder ... a powerful reminder ...
That God doesn’t just work through perfect people ...
That God doesn’t just work through those who are genetically pure ...
That God doesn’t just work through insiders ...
That God doesn’t just work through those who can claim a birthright into the nation ...
That God doesn’t just work through those who have y chromosomes ... you know ... ‘men’ ...
That God doesn’t just work through flawless families ...
That God doesn’t just work through the proud and the powerful ...
That God DOES work through the last and the lost and the little and the least ...
That God DOES work through both Jews and Greeks, men and women, slaves and free people ...
That God DOES work through some incredibly ordinary people who did some incredibly extraordinary things ...
That God DOES work through some extraordinarily gifted people who made some very ordinary mistakes ...
That God DOES work through imperfect ... broken and beautiful ... NORMAL PEOPLE ... like you and like me.
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And so my prayer today for you ... as you step into this new year ...
Is that you’ll remember that the people who ARE a part of the family of Jesus look a whole lot like us
Not “us as we’d like to be” ... but “us as we really truly are.”
Which maybe means that we too ... in our own way ... are part of God’s plan!
For which we can only say: Thanks be to God!