Christmas Midnight and Day
Christmas Midnight and Day
December 24-25, 2018
[After proclaiming the beginning of the Gospel according Matthew] - Well, that was fun. It took just under three minutes to cover forty-two generations. (And it is, honestly, the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew. I didn’t make it up! And it was not just a cruel challenge for Deacon.) Do you know what I love the best about when this particular gospel is proclaimed? I love watching your faces. It’s the baffled looks and raised eyebrows before Deacon even got to Amminidab and then the uncomfortable squirming that spread across the congregation by the time he reached Rehoboam. (“What’s he reading? Where’s the story about the shepherds and the angels?”) But by the time Boaz is mentioned it’s a look of mutiny. When he launched into the final fourteen, the home stretch to Jesus, most of your faces were alternating between polite “OK, it can’t last forever” and the look of relief when we get to those familiar words: Now this is how the birth of Jesus came about. Finally, we get to the real story!
I haven’t proclaimed Matthew’s account of the Gospel at Christmas for years but it is as much a part of the Christmas story as the shepherds and the angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest”, and once in a while we need to hear it. It tells us as much about God’s love in the world as St. Luke’s “no-vacancy-at-the-inn” story. These three minutes of tongue twisting names contain an insight into the Incarnation that we should never forget.
The story begins with Abraham, the father of faith and the father of Isaac, but there is no mention of the others son, the rightful heir to the family, Ishmael. Isaac becomes the father of Jacob, but his elder brother Esau, whose birthright Jacob stole, is forgotten. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. But why is Judah chosen and not the hero, Joseph and his amazing technicolor dreamcoat? And on it goes.
And what about the five women Matthew chooses to mention? No mention of Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel, those outstanding wives of the patriarchs. Instead: Tamar, a Canaanite woman who seduced her father-in-law to get a son out of him; and Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, and Ruth the Moabite, outsider of the tribe. Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, is named only as the wife of Uriah; he was the guy whom David had killed so he could marry her himself. Every one of these women had a scandal connected with her, as one could also say of Mary – the mother of Jesus – with her unconventional pregnancy. Certainly not the “Biblical Who’s Who” that one would expect a Messiah to be born of!
But Matthew is both bold and faithful to his Jewish heritage. As a Jew, he knew well that God does not necessarily select the most noble or even the most deserving person to carry out his divine purpose; in fact He rarely does. God’s way is much more mysterious than that! For reasons often hidden to us, God selects the “Judahs” in the world who sell their brothers into slavery, the “Jacobs” who cheat their way to first place, and the “Davids” who steal wives and murder rivals.
Matthew’s genealogy gives us the story of where Jesus came from but it also gives an indication as to what his ministry and message would be about. Deeply imbedded in his divine-DNA was a familiar path, not to palaces and kinds, but to the tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and lepers, to the outsiders and the poor and hungry. He came from a genealogical line of the flawed and the inflicted, the insulted and the cunning, the weak-willed and the misunderstood -- and to the same, he comes. Maybe that’s why we can feel so at home and comfortable here tonight/today. We fit in pretty well with this bunch.
If such a powerful and life-altering event as the Incarnation can be accomplished through a lineage of betrayers and outcasts, through so many men and women who were such complex mixtures of sinner and saint… if God found a way to manifest His divine plan through so many obscure and unknown men and women, through a nation that was once known as “Desolate” and “Forsaken”… isn’t it likely that God still can, and does dwell with us? Isn’t that exactly what we celebrate tonight/today on this Solemnity of the Incarnation?! With all of our weaknesses and our unfaithful moments, with our doubts and our sins, God still makes his home in this world today. He is still with us, still at work, still teaching and saving and forgiving, still Incarnate through us, not because of our great deeds or virtuous acts, but simply because God loves us so darn much.
It would most likely boggle our minds if we knew how God was using us right now to fulfill His plan. I think it would stop us in our tracks if it was revealed to us how, in spite of, or perhaps because of, our imperfections we fit into God’s divine plan to make his grace and presence known to this generation and the next, let alone to forty-two generations beyond today.
Isn’t that the great mystery of it all? God chose a winding and serendipitous path to come into the world, and it is here, on our winding and serendipitous paths of life that God continues to unfold a divine and wonderful and grace-filled plan. And we are all, each and every one of us, part of that mysterious plan to bring his love into the world: one relationship, one family, one day at a time.