“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. Thus there were 14 generations in all from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the exile to Babylon, and 14 from the exile to the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:1-2, 16-17)
If you were to pick your favorite part of the Christmas story, I would imagine that each one of us might choose something different. Some might be inspired by the courage that Mary showed when she responded with acceptance and joy at the angel’s news that she would bear God’s Son.
Others might find joy in watching the angels tell the good news to the Shepherds. Many would find hope that God chose to be born in a lowly manger, showing that God appears in all of the most unexpected and surprising places of this world.
I doubt many of us would choose Matthew 1:1-17 as our favorite part of the Christmas story. I won’t put the entire text in this article, as it is quite long, but you can look it up. These verses trace the ancestral line of Jesus from Abraham all the way to the Messiah. Most of us probably don’t even read these verses as part of the Christmas story but, rather, skip over them to get to the “good stuff.”
But, this year, I have found myself really thinking about these verses and what they mean for us. In Jesus’ genealogy there are good, bad, complicated and surprising characters who are included in the listing.
David was a bold young leader who defeated Goliath, but then also killed Uriah (an innocent man) and was lustful in his actions. Asa didn’t follow God’s ways at the end of his life, so he died of gangrene of the feet. Uzziah was prideful, and that led to his downfall. Jotham was a good king, Ahaz was a bad king, Hezekiah led with righteousness and Manassah was evil for most of his reign.
Just as shocking, five women were included in Jesus’ genealogy, a practice not common for that time period. Even more than this, these women were not, by any means, all considered “good” or “prestigious” women. Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth was a Moabite, a cultural outsider. What a family tree for anyone to have, let alone for the Messiah himself to claim as his ancestral line!
And, yet, there is so much Good News in this. Through this list of names we are reassured, once again, that God isn’t waiting for the world to be perfect to come to us. God didn’t look for the perfect family line to use to come into this world. Instead, God came into the world in human form, descendant of a mixed up, complicated, courageous and sinful group of people. God didn’t give up on that family line, but God came anyway. In fact, that is exactly why God came. God came with unconditional love to bring all people back to God.
God isn’t giving up on your family, either. God is coming to your family no matter how messed up or complicated your family might seem.
Last year, many of us were not able to celebrate Christmas in the ways we might traditionally celebrate. Subconsciously, I think many of us have then placed high hopes on what this year might look like.
And, yet, once again, this year we find our families are not perfect. Many of our families have been “put through the ringer” this year with financial and health burdens that are immense. Divorce and conflict still make coordinating get-togethers challenging. There are people we are still missing because they have passed on or moved away. For some, trying to even get to the dinner table and put on a smiling face will nearly be impossible due to a mental health diagnosis. Other families will quietly try to discern how to address the addiction of a loved one. Conflicts about how to gather and with whom to gather are still affecting many families this year. Despite all our hopes, our families and gatherings will probably not be perfect once again this year.
And that is the Good News of Matthew 1:1-17. That is why we shouldn’t forget that these seemingly dry verses are a part of the Christmas story. God didn’t give up on Jesus’ earthly family. God isn’t giving up on yours, either. God isn’t waiting for you to get your act together before God comes into your midst, but God is already there for you.
May that hope and peace surround you this Christmas season.
The Rev. Jeanette McCormick is pastor at Worthington’s First Lutheran Church.