Today’s gospel reading was the entire first chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the first book of the New Testament. So, we heard the beginning of Matthew and the New Testament! Saint Matthew’s account of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is no ordinary story with a clean beginning, middle, and end. I would like to suggest that the Gospel of Saint Matthew looks back to a prequel – the Old Testament – and looks ahead to today – to each and every one of us.
Saint Matthew begins his Gospel with the Genealogy of Jesus Christ, which begins: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…” followed by a long list of names. Two thousand years removed from the days of the early Church, most of us listening to Matthew’s genealogy of Christ – forty-two generations worth –hear but a handful of familiar names, and a lot of strange sounding, unfamiliar names. Why did Matthew include Jesus’ genealogy? The short answer is that a genealogy provides a quick way to learn who a person is.
The Jews and Gentiles in the very early days of the Church hearing Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy became excited or at least intrigued about this Jesus born of a Virgin. Indeed there is much that the Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ time and we, even today, can take and learn from Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Most significantly, we learn that
- The Son of God became en-fleshed and entered completely into the human condition: the dirt; the grime; the ambiguity, the paradox, and the comedy of life.
- He entered deeply into our very dysfunctional human family. We are able to say this because we see this in the persons whom Jesus allowed as his ancestors:
- David was a man of great faith but with many faults. He composed many of the beautiful psalms in praise of God, yet he also who arranged for the murder of his lover Bathsheba’s husband so he might take her legally as his wife.
- Jacob was a man who wrestled with God and injured his hip in the process making him lame for life.
- Rahab was a prostitute. She also came to believe in our one true God, for as we heard in today’s reading from the Hebrews, “by faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies [that is to say because of her hospitality], was not killed with those who were disobedient.”
- Ruth was not even an Israelite; she was a Moabite, an outsider who married an Israelite. Upon her husband’s death she remained a member of the house of Israel, living with her in-laws.
- And then there are the people like Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Eliud, Eleazor, Matthan, and Jacob the father of Joseph about whom we know nothing except that they form much of Jesus’ genealogy after the Babylonian exile.
God welcomed into the ancestry of His Son Jesus Christ persons who sinned horribly; persons who wrestled with Him, who struggled with Him; persons who were outsiders and foreigners; persons who were nobodies…These persons were all part of Jesus’ human nature.
We also learn today that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Fully human and fully divine. Jesus took His human nature, bearing all the beauty marks and warts of his ancestors, and perfectly conformed it to the will of his Father.
That this is so, there was no doubt to Simon Peter. Matthew, Chapter 16, verses 15 and 16 – roughly in the middle of the Gospel, Jesus asked his first disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15) Amongst all the disciples, Simon Peter came forward and answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16)
By the end of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the resurrected Jesus, tells his disciples, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)
We; sons and daughters of Father, and brothers and sisters of Jesus by virtue of our baptism; are called by our brother Jesus to do the will of the Father and be disciples.
The problem is, too often, we get in the way of ourselves. We feel unworthy to be players in God’s story because we are ashamed of our sins; because we struggle with God, fighting His call to faith, trust, and holiness; because we feel like an outsider; or because we feel like a nobody. It is at these times that we need to remember who God welcomed to be the ancestors of His Son. If he welcomed them to be participants in his story, then he certainly welcomes us.
And remember, too, Jesus’ adoptive father Joseph. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph did not cave in to his fear. He took Mary as his wife and welcomed Jesus into his home and his heart. God, through his Son, entered into human history – Joseph became a full participant in that story – the story that begins the New Testament.
As we approach the feast of the Nativity of our Lord, my prayer for each and every one of us is that we welcome into our hearts the newborn Jesus, the Mystery of the Incarnate God, the Word made flesh; and, in doing so, cast aside our fears, which are so often self-serving, and welcome ourselves as full participants in God’s story, in our homes, in our hometowns, and in the larger world.
The story of the Son of God has no beginning as we profess in the Nicene Creed: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. On that first Christmas morning the Son of God entered into human history, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he is with us today. Heed His call. Go. Make disciples of all nations. Jesus, the Son of the living God, is with us, always until the end of the age.
By: Fr. Deacon Thomas P. Shubeck