The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (1:1-25)
We come to this day, the Sunday before the Feast of Nativity and we hear a very special gospel reading. Many lovingly call this reading “the one with all the names.” It is also called “the genealogy.” When we hear all these names we may wonder to ourselves “what is the point of all this?” Let me share a couple of significant points and I hope that you will meditate on them over the next few days as you prepare for this beautiful feast.
First, as we listen to these assorted names from the Old Testament we are confronted with a hard reality. The Lord Jesus Christ came from one messed up family tree. I know that may sound irreverent or silly, but it is true. If you study some of the names that are mentioned here and the lives that they lived as documented through Holy Scripture you will also be convinced that what I have said is not an exaggeration. But this also gives us comfort. How often do we hear that we are products of our upbringing? That we can’t escape our family tree? How often do we think that our lives are predetermined by the family that we are born into? Yet, here we see that the Lord enters into the world as part of a family that had a rich and colorful history that is full of the unfiltered, fallen human experience. In this way the Lord’s family tree is not so different than our own. We are born into families and we are part of a family tree and regardless of what happened to create that family tree, we remain part of it.
The tree is not perfect, it is in many ways broken. It is full of broken people who had fractured relationships with one another and yet the Lord entered into this brokenness, and into our brokenness. In the epistle to the Romans we hear these words from the Apostle Paul “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We believe the same can be said for the incarnation of Christ. We could also rightly say “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ was born for us and took flesh for us.” It is truly something magnificent to contemplate. You read these names and see this disordered family tree and then you realize that even through all of this brokenness, God has not abandoned His people. He will use each and every one of these imperfect people to fulfill His perfect will. That is good news for us because most of us are also imperfect and the Lord plans to use and is indeed already using each and every one of us. He also continues the process of healing and restoring us. If the Lord waited for us to be healed on our own, we would have no hope. But thank God that Christ is our hope!
The next point I would like us to meditate upon is this: Christ did not appear out of nowhere. He wasn’t imagined by others or “made-up”. He is part of a family and has descendants that can be traced. All of the people in this list really existed and really lived. We have records of them. They are actual historical figures. Mary really existed. Jesus really exists. In our day and age, people speak of God philosophically, in the abstract. They ask “Does God exist?” But it is really a rather silly question. For the Christian the answer is not found by looking for God in the sky, but in looking at the person of Jesus Christ as found in the gospels. Either Jesus existed or He didn’t, and if He did indeed exist, then we have to wrestle with His identity. This should become the matter that preoccupies our time until we are firmly convinced of the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?”
The world wants us to think about God abstractly. As long as we think abstractly we will never actually know God. We will just think about God with our imagination. If we think about God that way then the devil will win. We will be confused and overwhelmed. We will be like the man who takes a trip to a far away place and does not have a map or a compass. He will remain lost. God does not want us to be lost. He wants us to know the way, the truth and the life. He wants us to His Son and to think about His Son concretely, physically.
He wasn’t a ghost or a spirit, He is flesh and blood. He had a family and family tree that is well documented. He became a man. He lived and grew in the womb of Mary for 9 months. He was born and breastfed and learned to crawl and walk and grew in wisdom and stature. He lived a holy life, fully perfect and pleasing to God His Father and He taught us the way of salvation and He showed us His love for us by pouring out His life upon the cross. At the feast of Nativity, we are celebrating God’s real love for humanity which He proved by allowing His Son to enter into our human existence. The genealogies of Matthew and Luke demonstrate that Jesus is real.
If in the very first chapter of the gospel of Matthew, he had documented something clearly false, no one would have taken the gospels seriously. They would’ve have laughed at him and moved on with their lives. But my brothers and sisters, they did take these gospels seriously. These gospels changed the world and they continue to change them as we speak. They are trustworthy and they spread even through antiquity without the help of facebook and twitter and google and television, because they were known to be accurate and true in most of their details. They were not works of fiction. They were works of truth that the writers were willing to defend with their lives, and they did! So don’t fall into the trap of looking for God in the sky or in your imagination. God doesn’t exist there. Look for Him in the word because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And by becoming flesh, He saved us and gave us a promise and an inheritance.
In the first epistle of St. John he writes “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
I pray that as we draw near to the feast and the celebration of Christmas we will really take this time to draw near to the one who first drew near to us, so that our joy may truly be full.