This morning…our reading is simply Jesus’ family tree. I’m guessing most of you were glad you weren’t Annie having to read this morning. Those names! Although, I was subbing this week at the middle school and I kind of felt like that just taking attendance. Names are getting more creative these days…and it’s kinda fun…sort of Biblical.
Anyway…so how many of you have explored your family tree? It’s pretty cool to be able to look back at the generations and the times and places in which they lived and realize that you’re connected to these people. To think that the folks who lived in the eras of the history books you’ve read……that they are a part of you. I have relatives on both sides of my family who’ve done the work of tracing our family trees. We received my Dad’s family tree the week before Kari was born. Actually, it’s how she got her name…as we were looking through it, there were generations of Karis going back in dad’s family in Norway…and I like to remember that our Kari is connected to them. They are part of her.
But the thing about family trees, is that they may look neat and orderly when they’re on paper…but they aren’t nearly as neat in real life. I took a family systems class…and we traced back our family tree back just three generations…but we added in all the traumatic events along the way that we knew about — the divorces and the miscarriages and abortions, the abuse, the alcoholism, the mental illness, the convictions, the affairs and all the messy stuff that we’d rather not put out there for all the world to see. The trees didn’t look quite as neat after that…but we had to put it all in because that’s the full story of who we are and where we come from.
Families aren’t ever the neat and tidy arrangements that people for some reason believe they “should” be. Our trees don’t run straight and true…they’re all a little wonky. And honestly, I’ve never understood this idea of the ideal family that some cling to — mom and dad and their biological children…all sanitized and scrubbed and sweet like June and Ward Cleaver. That’s a fiction of the 50s that has never held a shred of truth. That simply isn’t how families work…how they’ve ever worked. Family trees, family systems, have all sorts of downright ugly patches. In every tree, there are branches of betrayal and abuse. There is addiction and manipulation. There are divorces and affairs and family feuds and people that died alone. There are unwanted pregnancies and children raised by people who are not their parents. And you know what? Jesus’ family tree looks like that, too. Just in case you were wondering.
Today’s reading may seem odd…this list of names. But, if you pay attention to the stories… Matthew very specifically included the messy parts of Jesus’ family system. He includes Rahab, the foreign prostitute, and Tamar, the daughter-in-law who was despised by her husband’s family. Matthew included Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, abused by David and Ruth, a foreigner who, with her ex-mother-in-law’s encouragement audaciously chose her husband and went to his bed instead of waiting for him. And the men in that tree …when you know their stories…are liars, rapists, womanizers, weak and greedy and manipulative. Jesus’ family tree is not scrubbed clean by any stretch. It is as messy a family system as any of ours.
But Matthew insists that through this lineage…through these tangled branches…God brings the Messiah.
“Messiah” is one of those religious words that sometimes we’re not exactly what we mean by. The Israelites were waiting for a Messiah…someone to save them…be their champion. They knew their lives were messy and ugly, but imagined they would be saved by political power and military might…that somehow the chaos of the world and of their lives would be cleared up if the right person were in charge. But Jesus is a different kind of champion. Jesus comes to us, right in the midst of our messiness and believes in us. Calls us by name. Knows us. Loves us. And brings beauty and hope out of the tangled branches of our family trees and the tangled stories.
I think sometimes we think we have to fit into a certain mold in order to be a “Christian”…or for God to love us. But the world God so loves…is THIS one. And the story Jesus enters is real…it’s complicated and messy, just like our stories. This …this messy life…is where God is present. And I think that’s the point of this genealogy.
Because even though our family systems are messy…and even downright awful at times…they are never beyond redemption…never outside of God’s love. God is woven into the story…into OUR story, even when all we see is the ugly and the hurt. God brings light into the darkness….hope into our despair. And makes beautiful what was broken. Not because we pulled it all together….because quite frankly…we never pull it all together. But because God holds it all together. Because God enters our human story and touches us with love. Not in some imagined perfect life…but in our real lives. In messy lives. God comes to be with us…Emmanuel is Jesus name….and that’s what it means. God is with us. And God makes our family trees beautiful with glimpses of grace and mercy for each and every one of us…giving us always a new day. A new beginning. And it is everything we ever could have hoped for.
One of the things I like about Matthew’s genealogy is that it traces Jesus’ family tree through Joseph. Which is interesting, because according to the story…if you keep reading…Joseph wasn’t really Jesus’ father, right? But that doesn’t matter…because Jesus is grafted into Joseph’s family…into his heart and soul and story. Our new beginnings …our redemption sometimes looks like that too. Sometimes grace comes to us when we are grafted into a new family tree. Through adoption or foster care, through friendships or marriages. And this is the way God works anyway, isn’t it? Because whatever our history, God grafts us into God’s family tree. Your branches…your roots…are not just traced back for generations to ancestors in countries spanning the globe. You are not just the product of the generations of trauma in your family. You are grafted into God That is where you are rooted. The DNA of God is in you and God’s grace and love and forgiveness are as baked into you as everything else.
This morning…we recognize that God comes to us in the midst of our lives…whatever they may look like. And he is the Messiah, our champion…and he is on our side…believing in us and fighting for us that we might know …now and forever…that we are children of God. Amen.