All the Generations

(A reflection for Advent 4B–December 18, 2011–Psalm 89:1-4; Matthew 1:1-24)

In Bible Study this fall, we’ve been reading the first two books of the Old Testament, and they are chock-a-block with genealogies. I sometimes offer to read them myself, the way I read the names this morning, but the truth is I don’t know how to pronounce some of them, and the pronunciation I give them owes more to my Southern upbringing than to my seminary education.

The question has been asked, more than once, why write it all down? It doesn’t even always line up accurately.

But the answer is that somewhere along the way, when life was challenging and memories of the past seemed at risk, people decide it was important to gather up all the stories and all the lists of names and put them safely together in one document, to record God’s relationship with all the generations. These lists of fathers and sons, mostly, with some side trips to mention mothers and wives, provide the background for the dramatic stories of battles and murders and miracles and prophets and ancient nomads and angelic visitors and dysfunctional families.

Yes, we’ve had those since the very beginning.

The New Testament, the Good News of Jesus Christ, begins with a family tree.  It describes the trunk of Abraham and the branch of David and the generations leading to the new leaf we celebrate every year at Christmas, the birth of God into human form.

It’s a *family* tree, a reminder that God did not simply manifest as a full-grown person with no connections. No. God connected, to all the generations. And God ultimately connected to the human experience by becoming one of us, with parents and grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles. God connected to us through all time and in all places by being born.

I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 89:1, New Revised Standard Version)

This long family tree, describing these many generations, brings us to Joseph, the human father who would raise Jesus. He came from a long line of the faithful. They praised God’s steadfast love in happy times, but in complicated times as well: in war, in grief, in slavery, in famine and in exile. They proclaimed God’s faithfulness to all generations. They believed that what they hoped ford would come, if not in their time, then surely in the time to come.

Joseph was the one who would see hope come alive.

Just like Mary, though, he had to make a decision. Would he listen to the angel and believe the story he was told?

We don’t usually read the family tree. We wonder why it’s even there. It’s there to tell us why Joseph said his yes to God.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:17, NRSV)

Julia Margaret Cameron

In all the generations, Joseph’s family believed in God’s unfailing love. They passed down to him a trust in God’s love that enabled him to respond faithfully.

2000 years later, we’re trying to do the same thing, to tell the world about our experience of God’s love and to pass it along to the next generation. Later today our children will act out the story Matthew gives us in a few compact verses. We want them to know it because someday one of them may be called on to do something remarkable, just like Joseph. Out of love for us, God came into the world as a baby. Let us tell the world about God’s faithfulness, to all the generations.

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