“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham …” (Matthew 1:1-17)
Reading the long list of names in the genealogy of Jesus makes me think of my own genealogy.
Anna, Christian, Deb, DuWayne, Ella, Ernest, Fred, Harold, Herbert, Irene, John, LuAnn …
I’m proud of my German heritage. I give thanks for what it taught me about faith, discipline, hard work, commitment to family, and responsibility to community. I carry in my very body, in my mind, in my outlook on life the decisions, attitudes, and lives of my ancestors. I am who I am today, because of who they were in their day.
It’s for this reason I am open to learning from my neighbors with African heritage about the ongoing effects of slavery and racism.
How would I see things differently if I carried in my body the lived experience of my Great-Great Grandfather coming to this country not of his own free will hoping for a better life, but as a slave in chains, imprisoned on a slave ship, and counted as 3/5ths a person in the United States Constitution?
What if my Great-Grandfather, instead of freely taking over the family farm from his father, instead had been a slave separated from his family and sold from one farmer to another farmer in some other state?
What if his son, my grandfather, instead of inheriting the proceeds from a successful family farm, inherited segregation? Though no longer a slave, what if he had to sit in the colored-only section of a restaurant, or bus, or school? And what if my father, instead of being a free man protected from the law, was sitting in jail because of racism in the law that imprisons dark skinned people far out of proportion of those who are light skinned?
What if my genealogy gave me a skin color that wasn’t privileged, but instead aroused suspicion, hate, and violence in others?
There is inherited freedom in this country. And, there is inherited bondage in this country.
Genealogy is important. It defines who we have been, who we are, and who we will be. In real ways we carry in ourselves, the decisions, attitudes, and lives of our ancestors.
That’s why my Christmas reflection is on the genealogy of Jesus.
Jesus didn’t enter into the human story divorced from history. Jesus, by virtue of his human birth, entered precisely into our human story.
In the mystery of the Word made flesh, Jesus took in his flesh the identity of his ancestors. In his very body, he took on a genealogy of sinners and saints, of good decisions and bad decisions, of careful planning and thoughtless indifference, of people sacrificing for others and people living in selfishness only for themselves.
In his genealogy Jesus took on the whole human story. All that ever existed in the human heart in the 2000 years since Jesus, existed in the 14 generations from Abraham to David, the fourteen generations from David to the deportation to Babylon, and the fourteen generations from the deportation to Babylon to the birth of Jesus. Technology has advanced in dramatic ways. The human heart has not.
Often, Christians focus more on the other end of Jesus’s life. On the cross, indeed, Jesus in his body pierced and broken on the cross, took upon his body the full depths of human cruelty and pain.
But that is just as true in his incarnation. There Jesus also took on the full human reality. In the biological DNA he received from Mary, and in the parenting of Joseph who carried in his body the genealogy recorded in Matthew, Jesus took into himself the decisions, lives, and attitudes of his biological ancestors, and through them, all of humanity.
The awesome Christmas Good News is of a Savior who knows us and our human story deep in his very body.
It is the promise of Emanuel, God with us, as one of us. As part of the family, as one carrying in himself generations of yearnings and longings, brokenness and sorrows, courageous actions of faith and love, and cowardly acts of fear and prejudice.
On this Christmas, as cries of pain and suffering rise from violence in Berlin, Aleppo, and all the places of the world’s brokenness, our celebration is not of a savior of sentimentality detached from our pain and living in some golden age. It is a celebration of a savior who gets us, who knows us, and who understands our pleading deep in his body, the body born of Mary and Joseph, the baby born of Jehoshaphat, and Jotham, and Manasseh, and the whole long list of names.
The good news is that this baby calls us together in the Holy Church to wash us in the water, to feed us in the meal, and to raise us to new life in the word. It is the good news of a baby who blesses us with gifts of grace, forgiveness, and mercy. It is the good news of a baby who then sends us into the world as his very body, to be agents of peace, healing, and mercy.
That is the good news of great joy for all the people!
To us is born in the city of David as Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord!
Glory to God in the highest!
The photo is of the baptismal font in its central location in the Nave of Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts.