A record of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Aram.
Aram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz was the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asaph.
Asaph was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Joram.
Joram was the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amos.
Amos was the father of Josiah.
Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
This was at the time of the exile to Babylon.
After the exile to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Achim.
Achim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary—of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ.
So there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen generations from the exile to Babylon to the Christ. --Matthew 1:1-17 CEB
Holy is God’s name, who shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, for those who honor God. Amen.
From generation to generation. That is our theme throughout this incarnational season of the church year - this time from Advent through Epiphany. It is taken from Mary’s song of protest and praise - a song sung by her in the midst of challenge. In the midst of her vulnerability. Even in these moments, Mary could see God’s vision. That dream of God captured in the reading from Isaiah that we heard last week and, again, today. Perhaps, repetition is helpful for us - that this vision of God for a new way of being for all nations might be more fully and deeply embedded in us. A vision of peace. Of wholeness. Of shalom.
It was a vision that was bigger than Mary. That is bigger than we are. That Christ comes for our collective liberation. That this work of God’s redemption continues and is meant to be lived out and passed on. From generation to generation.
So, it’s perhaps no surprise that, on this first Sunday of Advent, we begin at the beginning. With Jesus’ family tree.
I’m curious how many of you have done any genealogy work on your own family tree? My work really began with my mother, decades ago, when she created a wall hanging for the 50th anniversary of my paternal grandparents. My brother, a cousin and I have continued that work. Over the past decade or so, thanks to Ancestry.com, that simple wall hanging has grown into an extensive tree reflecting generations in my family. Not only on my father’s side, but on my mother’s, as well.
Why do we do this work of tracing the generations of our families? Although I can’t answer that question for you, for me it has been a way of identifying where I come from. And who I am. In learning the stories of my ancestors, my story is told, too.
There is, for example, the story of my father’s family. Fourteen children. Four boys and ten girls. A huge family with not alot of money, at least at the beginning. So, their entertainment was to sing together as a family. To play instruments, especially piano and accordion. To go every Friday night to community dances, which happens to be where my mom met my dad. And, because they lived in such a rural place, nearly 40 miles away from the nearest small town, it also meant that my father and his older brother learned how to fly (and crash) a small Cessna, so they could travel to places they might otherwise not have experienced. Perhaps, that’s how I get my travel bug.
If we look at Jesus’ lineage, we see that he, too, comes from a large family. In Matthew, this family is traced all the way back to Abraham. Then to Isaac, then Jacob with his twelve sons. Then to David, who God promised - covenanted with - that his line would never end. On and on Jesus’ line is traced through the chosen nation of Israel and its ancestors. From kings to prophets to priests. To show us two things about his identity. That Jesus embodies the royal lineage of King David, whose line would be carried on by the Promised One, the Messiah. And that he also embodies the covenantal authority of Abraham, through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. For Matthew’s audience, Jesus may appear to be a simple carpenter, but he is, in fact, the fulfillment of both the promise to Abraham and that of King David. Jesus is the royal successor to David. King. And the promised Messiah. Savior. King and Savior, come to bless all nations.
But, genealogies give us not only glimpses of the happy or joyful times in our families’ histories, but also stories of challenge and hardship. Sometimes evil. If I look carefully at my grandfather’s history, I learn that the same year he was born, his four-year-old sister died. Two years later, another sister died in childbirth. The following year, when my grandfather was only 3 years old, his mother, my great-grandmother Marian, died at the very young age of 24. Three months later, his father married Marian’s sister, Katherine. If I move to my mother’s side, I find a great-grandfather who was murdered.
In the midst of the joy of our families, lies tragedy and heartache. Struggle and conflict. And, sometimes, family members who lose their way. This is so with my family. I wonder if it is so of yours.
This complexity is so with Jesus’ family, which contains serious blemishes.
For example, in Jesus’ line, Manasseh and Amon appear - two incredibly evil kings. Or there’s King Jechoniah, an unhappy king who was exiled not once, but twice. Then, notice the women who appear unexpectedly in Matthew’s genealogy, something unusual in ancient times. Many of them experienced their own trauma and heartache. There is Tamar. Jacob’s daughter-in-law whom he impregnated. Or Bathsheba. Unnamed in the family tree, but mentioned as the wife of Uriah, whom David killed so that he could take Bathsheba as his own. And impregnate her with a son she would lose seven days after his birth. Or consider Rahab. A prostitute who hid the Israelite spies as they were scouting out the Promised Land. Or consider Mary herself. A teenager who found herself pregnant and unmarried at a time when such a condition could result in stoning. All of these women, with the exception of Mary, foreigners, often in conflicted circumstances. Yet grafted - adopted - into Jesus’ family tree. Just as you and I have been adopted in, as well.
What’s your family story? My guess is that it is as messy and wonderful as my family's story. And that of Jesus’ family. In those long lists of names, we remember the trauma and triumph of those who came before. Each name holds a story. And, in Matthew’s genealogy, their story gives way to Christ’s story. A story that encompasses all of our stories, complicated as they are. Weaving them together with generations past and present. Welcoming us in. And inviting us to share Christ’s story and our story, too. Of liberation and freedom. Of peace. Of shalom. With all the generations to come.
Because, in Christ’s story, there is room for every story. Past. Present. And future. Amen.
Preached December 4, 2022, at Grace & Glory Lutheran, Prospect, with Third Lutheran, Louisville.
First Sunday of Advent
Readings: Matthew 1:1-17; Isaiah 2:1-5