Deciding how to begin a story is an art for any skilled storyteller. Those first lines of a story catch the reader’s attention, let the reader know what kind of story they are about to hear, and determine if the reader will continue reading, or move on to the next story. Today this is even more important. Today we are even more impatient and don’t give a writer much time to grab our attention, before deciding if the story is worthy. The author of the Gospel of Matthew, must not have taken a class on storytelling because he begins with something that is not very exciting. Luke begins with the story of an old priest and his old wife Elizabeth, a sudden affliction of being mute and a miraculous pregnancy…that’s attention grabbing. John begins gorgeous poetry that harkens back to Genesis, “In the Beginning was the word and the word was with God…” That’s attention grabbing. Mark begins with a homeless, hairy guy crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. That’s attention grabbing. Matthew. Matthew on the other hand begins with a genealogy. That’s not attention grabbing. Genealogies are only exciting to the person for whom that is their genealogy.
There must be a reason the Gospel writer starts the Good News of Jesus Christ with a genealogy of Jesus on his earthly father’s side. He must have a point he’s trying to make… a reason we should care and not skip to the second chapter, where things get exciting and we get to see the three kings.
Genealogies are important in many cultures, and certainly was in the time of the writing of Matthew. People’s identities and even merit was tied with their family of origin. Matthew provides a genealogy, not because he is trying to trace genetics, but because of his theology and his argument and belief that Jesus is the Messiah. By providing a genealogy he is setting up his belief that Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of the Old Testament. By tracing Jesus’s genealogy through King David and on to Abraham, the author is making a theological point he’s saying, “hey everyone look here, you people have messed up a lot, you have broken your promises, sinned, gone to war, done unspeakable things, but God promised that a Messiah would come through the Davidic line and that promise has been fulfilled through Jesus. Matthew’s genealogy includes 42 names, organized in 3 sets of 14: there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 generations from David to the Babylonian exile, and 14 generations from exile to Jesus.
The beautiful thing about Matthew’s genealogy is who he chooses to name as Jesus’ ancestors. Every name has a powerful story attributed to it. There are stories of trauma, hardship, triumph and beauty. He doesn’t just name powerful men, but five women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary. These women were victims of rape, they were refugees and had questionable lifestyles and they are part of Jesus’ ancestry. There is something very human here. All of us have stories in our family lineage that we are painful.
At the same time, Jesus’ lineage is one that comes from a royalty. This is key for Matthew as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, he is a son of David and therefore heir to the throne. Today we will be introducing you to Advent Tradition known as making a Jesse Tree. King David was the youngest of seven brothers. David’s father was named Jesse. The prophet Isaiah foretold, the shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse. A Jesse Tree is Jesus’ family tree that lets you count down to 25 days until his birth by telling the story of Jesus beginning with Creation and moving through the Old Testament to the birth. We have a Jesse Tree and a children’s book out in the Gathering area for you to look at and we will make a simpler one for you to take home.
Matthew begins his Gospel holding two truths at the same time, Jesus came from human roots, Jesus is the Messiah the son of God, as prophesized by the prophets of old, and by the covenant God made through Jesus’s ancestors. It’s really beautiful when you think about, how Matthew ties it together. Jesus doesn’t just come out of nowhere, he comes out of a story of generations.
Our Advent theme this year is generation to generation. The idea being that we learn from past generations and bring our ancestors with us and we are someone in the future’s ancestors, leading to the question, what will we pass on to the next generation?
What stories from your past generations will you carry forward to next generations.
One of my most cherished memories is listening to my grandpa telling me stories about when he was a child. I loved the way he told a story. I loved his soft shirts and looking at his warn hands as he weaved a story and took me to rural Missouri during the Depression on a farm in the middle of nowhere, where poverty was an every day experience and the death of a mother at the tender age of 7 years old, left him and his siblings without arms to hold, or comfort to be found. He would tell stories of catching rabbits, and squirrel soup, and going fishing, and working as a janitor at his school at the age of 14. He would tell stories about the mice who would scurry across the thatch roof at night with their twig findings for a nest and the roof would catch fire, and he would run out of the house and sprint two miles down the road to get help from his grandparents, who would come with buckets and provide shelter. I think about those grandparents a lot, my great, great grandparents. I think about what it felt like for them to see their grandson running at full speed with his night shirt drenched with sweat and the blood drained from his face out of fear for his home and his siblings. I think about my great grandparents running out to him giving him safety and refuge from the fire.
I don’t even know their names, but I know they are part of me. They provided the safety to their grandson, that their grandson gave to his granddaughter, that I can only hope to give to my own someday.
What about you? What generation story do you hold in your memory that you pray to carry forward to future generations?
Have you heard of the 7th generation principle? It’s the a philosophy that comes from the Iroquois people that emphasizes how seven generations – that’s 240 years from now will be impacted by our current actions and decisions. This philosophy demands a sacred imagination. Imagining the world 240 years from now requires hope, faith and desire for the world to exist in a way that our children live in place where they needn’t have to run from fires.
The beauty of Matthew’s Gospel is that it begins with a story with enough room for every story. Every story that has been passed down through the ages. For the stories long told and long forgotten and the stories yet to be told. Matthew takes us way back in time to the beginning with Abraham and takes us to today, to our story and where the Messiah, the son of God is bringing light in our world right now, and then beckons us forward to a time we will never see or know, but is already known to the God who is already there, generations from now. This Advent season we sit on the great timeline of the great story and get to be the story tellers of our faith and our worship of the Son of God.
Advent invites us to once again hear familiar story, and find our story in it.
The story never changes, but we do and so does our perspective.
Advent comes quietly to invite us—all of us: lifelong believers, skeptics, seekers, the curious, and unbelievers—invites all of us to ponder for a moment a most incredible, most improbable idea: namely that a humble birth in Bethlehem of Judea is the Advent of God, the coming of God into our lives; that behind all the religious rituals human beings have devised to placate an angry God, there is this—a child in a manger; a mother’s and father’s awe and love and gratitude.
Advent is an invitation to trust that God: to give your heart to that God, to trust your future to the God who promises to be with you and to come into your life with healing and hope and peace.
Everyone wants to know that story.
Rev. Dr. Shelly Wood