Saturday, November 27, 2010

Advent I - Family Connections - St. Matthew 1:1-17

Advent is a time of waiting and a time of hope. During Advent we anticipate the birth of the Messiah, Jesus who is to be born at Christmas and bring the Kingdom of God into our midst. Advent is also a time when we look forward to that day when Christ will come again and bring the Kingdom of God into our midst in its fullness. But who is this Jesus? Where does he come from?

These are questions were very important to early Christian communities and for this reason Matthew begins his Gospel with the answers to these question by providing a genealogy. Now, the bible has lots of genealogies – especially the Old Testament (Luke includes one too, but in Luke it is like a footnote to the Baptism of Jesus – see Luke chapter 3). The book of 1st Chronicles, for example, begins with 9 long chapters of genealogy. These genealogies can be tedious, which anyone who has tried to read through even 1 of these 9 chapters in I Chronicles will affirm. But Matthew’s genealogy is different. For one thing he places it right at the beginning of the Gospel so that it serves as a kind of prologue. And like any good prologue this one includes some very important information, not only about who Jesus is and where he came from, but also it anticipates the ministry priorities of this Jesus who is the Messiah.

Take a moment to read through the text - St. Matthew 1:1-17

The first point – Jesus is descended from King David and King Solomon. So Jesus is from the House of David and consequently he is the authentic King of Israel. This is not a secondary issue. Remember, as we were reminded in our lesson from last week, that Jesus’ claim of Kingship is one of the charges that prompts Pilate to crucify Jesus. Any claim to Kingship is also a denial and an affront to the Roman Emperor – which was a capital offense. Jesus is truly the “King of the Jews.”

Second – Jesus is descended from Abraham, so he is fully Jewish. There have been in the history of Christianity, and there even continues today, to be misguided efforts to claim that Jesus is not really Jewish (going all the way back to Marcion in the 2nd & 3rd centuries). But Matthew will have none of it. Right in verse 1 of this Gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is a son of Abraham. Jesus is fully Jewish.

Third – Jesus is also descended from Gentiles and from people whose lives are not exactly models of faithfulness. There are five women listed in this genealogy (the 5th one is Mary). That in and of itself is unusual.  Does Matthew include Sarah, or Rachel or Hannah or one of those Old Testament women who are notable as begin faithful to God? No, those are not the women Matthew includes. The women we meet in this passage are: Tamar (verse 3), Rahab (verse 5), Ruth (verse 5) and Bathsheba (verse 6 – listed as “the wife of Uriah.) Who are these women? Tamar played the harlot with Judah is a seamy and sexy story found in Genesis 38; Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who hid the Israelite spies (Joshua 2); Ruth was a Gentile who seduced Boaz (all of Ruth); and Bathsheba was the married woman with whom David committed adultery and which also led him to murder her husband (II Samuel 11) - she was also a player in the bloody events which surrounded the succession of Solomon to the throne following David's death. All these women have sin and darkness in their pasts and all were forgiven and were followers of God (just like us!).   Not only that but two of them are Gentiles (Ruth and Rahab).

What does this mean? Jesus the Messiah is the King, who comes to us unlike any other King. He comes into the midst of a world of sin and darkness and he redeems it from within. Jesus, the Christ, is the Savior of the world – beginning with the Jews he reaches out to all peoples of all times and all backgrounds. For in Christ, as Paul says in Galatians – “There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile)… slave nor free… male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Galatians 3:27-28)

Finally this Prologue/Genealogy is a proclamation that in Christ, God is making a new beginning – a new Genesis. If it were a movie perhaps the Gospel of Matthew might be known as Genesis II. For in Christ we have a new start, a new beginning. Forgiveness and grace come into our midst and God, through Jesus, is now with us in a new and unique way. The Kingdom has come into our midst and we celebrate this and wait with hopeful expectation for that day when Christ will come and bring the Kingdom into our midst in its fullness. Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

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