4th Advent: Matthew 1 December 18, 2016
Today’s gospel lesson starts at the 18th verse of chapter 1 of Matthew’s gospel.
Does anyone know what’s in the first 17 verses of Matthew?
It’s a text rarely read in church.
It goes like this:
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and
his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron,
and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, an Aminadab the father of
Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon,and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz
the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6and Jesse the father of King David.
And that’s only the beginning.
So maybe you see why we don’t usually read this text.
To most contemporary ears, this is ho, hum - a dull introduction
which may have mattered in ancient times but doesn’t mean much to us.
It would make more sense to us if the gospel just began with the words,
“the birth of Jesus happened this way . . . “
So, that’s what our lectionary does.
But Matthew is very careful in the way he begins his gospel.
For Matthew, these seventeen verses of “was the father of’s”
is crucial to what he wants his readers to know about Jesus.
First, and most importantly,
these verses assure readers that Joseph is in the line of King David.
This is vital, because the people of Israel know that the Messiah
will be a descendant of David.
Matthew wants to make sure the people know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Messianic promises.
So one important thing the story we read today says is that Joseph is Jesus’ father.
It was the role of the father to name a child,
so when the angel tells Joseph to name the baby Jesus,
he is not just giving the baby a name,
but also telling Joseph to take the baby as his son.
By marrying Mary and naming the baby, Jospeh will become the baby’s rightful father – making Jesus a descendant of the house of David, as promised.
But there is much more going on in this first chapter of Matthew.
Most of the genealogy is patrilineal – the father of, the father of, the father of.
But a few times, Matthew throws in a mother.
And who are these mothers?
There are five women in the genealogy:
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah, and Mary
All but Mary are Gentiles.
All are involved in some sort of scandal, or behavior inappropriate for a woman.
Yet these are the women Matthew chooses to name.
Perhaps they are intended to place Mary in like company;
this is not the only time God has used unlikely women to fulfill God’s plan.
Almost certainly they are also intended to make the point that it is not a new idea for God to include Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation.
God has always intended for the blessing and salvation of Gentiles,
as well as Israelites.
And, God has always used regular people –
some models of faithfulness and religious purity,
some well outside both boundaries –
to fulfill God’s will and do good for God’s people.
Which brings us back to Joseph.
Joseph is a faithful Jew, and, as the story takes pains to point out,
a kind and righteous man.
And Joseph is caught up in a scandal.
His betrothed is pregnant – and he knows he is not the father.
He wants to do the right thing –
to do what is required by law, but to do it as gently and kindly as possible.
Imagine what a difficult time this is for him.
Everything he expected for his life has been turned upside down.
He has been shamed by the woman he plans to marry –
his pride, his affection, his certainty for his future, have all been hurt.
Then an angel comes.
As always, the angel says “Do not be afraid” -
yet in this instance, it is not “do not be afraid of me,”
but “do not be afraid to go forward into your future.”
You find yourself in a place of uncertainty, with everything turned upside down.
But do not be afraid.
God is with you – and God has a part in all this – and you do, too.
The angel tells Joseph to be the father of this baby –
this baby who is of the Holy Spirit
During the season of Advent, we always talk about Mary.
We always talk about Mary’s yes to God,
Mary’s faith, Mary’s trust.
Joseph stays quietly in the background, even in the Christmas story –
traveling with his pregnant wife, caring for wife and baby in a stable –
but we never hear a word from him.
Today, we see Joseph’s Yes as well.
He doesn’t speak, but we see what he does –
which is trust God,
even when the message from the angel flies in the face of all propriety
and perhaps his own heart.
He does what the angel asks – taking his place by Mary’s side,
to raise a child who is “God with us,” and will save his people from their sins.
At its core, this story is about trust.
Joseph trusts God.
Mary trusts God.
And Matthew wants his readers to trust God as well.
He wants us to know that God has made promises to God’s people,
and God has kept those promises.
God is faithful and steadfast in God’s love for people,
and always works to reconcile people to himself.
And God counts on ordinary, unlikely people –
people a bit like us -
to carry out God’s plans.
God invites us to trust -
Not just when things go well, and life is following our plans,
or at least looks something like our expectations of what life should look like
but even when it all topples and we find ourselves lost,
caught in scandal,
stuck in fear or despair.
Those are the times we can trust God –
as Abraham and Sarah, Ruth and Tamar, Mary and Joseph,
all trusted God in the middle of crazy, scary places.
Maybe this Advent finds you in a place where life is going along pretty much as expected, and you are filled with contentment.
And that is wonderful, and a reason to give thanks.
I hope we all have those periods in our lives when all is well.
But I know we all have the other kinds of times –
when we are scared, hurt, confused, lost, stuck –
and that is where today’s story meets us.
In the company of God’s chosen people, scared and confused,
but following anyway,
trusting in God’s love and goodness and constant faithfulness.
We can trust, because we prepare to welcome “Emmanuel”
- God with us – and we know Emmanuel will save even us.
Thanks be to God.