“Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
The Lord’s mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.”
–Luke 1:48b-50 (part of Mary’s song, “The Magnificat”)
Advent-Christmas is often a time we look back. I enjoy decorating our family Christmas tree with ornaments from my childhood. Some draw laughter (those ornaments I made in elementary school); others hold dear memories (the donkey I selected from the tree of Drucilia King, a shut-in my sister and I visited every Christmas Eve with my father). I enjoy cooking the toffee my grandmother made while Jenny tastes Christmas in her grandmother’s peanut butter fudge. The ornaments and family recipes remind us of our family origins—that the hope, peace, joy, and love we celebrate at Christmas have been passed to us from generation to generation.
This Advent, I’m also reminded of the importance of remembering the generations before us as our congregation prepares to make significant decisions about our church and its existence for generations yet to come. We are here today because of the blessings shared with us from generations past. We have a legacy of faithfulness to live into as we strive to be stewards of our church’s calling that stretches back to our origin in 1827.
Matthew’s Gospel opens with the origin story of Jesus. Before angels appear to Joseph in dreams, before Mary gives birth, before the Magi visit, we are reminded that Jesus has an origin story too. Indeed, his origin story is crucial to understanding the rest of Matthew’s Gospel. This genealogy is carefully composed to root Jesus in the larger story of God’s work in the world.
Some of the names do not surprise us. The origin of Jesus begins with Abraham, the one called out to become a blessing to all the families of the world. The list also begins by naming David, a complex leader in Israel’s history—one whose life demonstrated the extremes of faithfulness and unfaithfulness to the just ways of God. The list includes Jews and Gentiles, well-known figures and nobodies, the powerful (kings) and those will little social power (women from the margins). The genealogy on the one hand is consistent with ancient cultural norms, telling the origin of Jesus through the patriarchal structure of his era (thirty-nine times using the phrase “father of”), but also the origin unfolds in ways quite contrary to the these norms (the inclusion of five women). Indeed, in the end, the term “father of” is completely abandoned as the attention shifts to Mary while Joseph is given no agency in the conception of Jesus—the “from whom” in “from whom Jesus was born” is in the feminine singular.
It is the five women in this origin story that we will turn our attention to throughout the Advent-Christmas season. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary are not just interesting because they are women included in a male-dominated genealogy. Each of them has an important story to tell. None of them had a culturally approved relationship with a man. Three of the five were ethnic outsiders (non-Jews), and another one (Bathsheba) was married to a Gentile before being taken by King David. Three conceived children outside the culturally approved bonds of a marriage contract. They were forced to use their bodies for economic security, political safety, and even to guarantee their continued existence. At the same time, each of them demonstrates a powerful resolve for life—for their own families and their larger communities. Their lives were put on the line to draw attention to injustice.
Isn’t it just fantastic that the Gospel of Matthew begins by connecting Jesus to these women! Indeed, their stories, their existence as part of the origin of Jesus, have a lot to tell us about who Jesus is and what he is up to in our world. Ultimately Matthew reminds us, as followers of Jesus they are part of our origin story too.
From Generation to Generation… This Advent-Christmas we celebrate our origins. Our family stories so present to us in the holiday season. Our congregational story as we discern important decisions that will shape generations yet to come. Our reading of the origin of Jesus, which shapes our understandings of what it means to follow in the Way of Jesus today.