There once were three brothers, who lived in the Bavarian countryside, who for reasons that have been lost to time and have fallen from the story travelled to the coast, bought passage on a ship and made the long journey across the ocean to America, the land where dreams are found to be true and every man can find his place in this world. When they landed on the shores of the new land they continued their journey until they found themselves directly on the other side of the mountains and settled along Rock Creek in a place that came to be known as Kentucky. Living was hard, but they made families there and their children lived there.
Their sons took up with the coal mines where they worked long and hard. So their sons and their grandsons worked the coal mines until the coal began to dry up along with the jobs and the money. This is when Lawrence Sr. left his wife, Mary along with their children in the hills and travelled to the city to find work. He would send home the money he made in the city and periodically would return to stay with his wife and children, but money would always become tight he would head off to the city again.
This went on until a particular time while the youngest five of their 10 children were still about, and Mary was on the other side of the rise, working a small plot of land they used to grow their food. She had stopped and was leaning on her hoe to rest for up a bit when she noticed a large cloud of smoke coming up from the other side of the rise…right where the house should be. Mary dropped her hoe and ran up over the hill screaming, “My babies, my babies.” She came over hill and looked down into the holler just in time to see the house all a flame and her five year old daughter, carrying Baby Jesse and dragging little Lawrsy out by his diaper. Everyone was safe but the house was gone. So she took up a collection from all the relatives about and bought bus fare for her and the children.
And you can imagine Lawrence Sr.’s surprise when Mary knocked on the door to his flat one evening, five kids in tow saying, “The house burned down, so we come to live with you here in the city.” And that is the story of how father, who was called Little Lawrcy by his older brothers and sisters until the day he died, and my extended family ended up living in Baltimore. My sisters, my mother and much of my extended family still live in the suburbs outside of Baltimore to this day.
Our family stories matter. Who we are very much comes from where we have been and the place from which our families have come. This is time of the year when families draw close to one another, to celebrate, to eat together, to laugh together, to tell our stories, to make new ones and to remember who we are together. It is the time of year that, every Hallmark movie wants us to know that no matter where we go or how far we wander, getting back to our roots, remembering where we come from and who our family truly is, is the true meaning of the season. As Christians, the meaning of this season runs a little deeper. For us it is a time to remember the birth of Christ, but it is even more than that, we remember the truth of the incarnation, God with us; that God in Christ literally walked in our shoes, experienced life as we experience it, sanctifying and making holy even the most mundane parts of human existence by participating in every aspect of life. It is a time where we, as Christians, as followers of Christ, as believer in the incarnation, a people who truly believe that “God with us” changed everything forever; that we remember where we come from, and to which family it is we all truly belong. It is a time to remember our stories.
The book of Matthew (the gospel in which my congregation will spend the next several months), begins the story of Jesus by telling us where Jesus comes from. It begins with a genealogy, a recitation of the people from whom Jesus came. This list of names is very much the story of who Jesus is, as told by who his family is and from whom his family came. Each name, each person mentioned represents a story which when weaved together make up story of the family into which Jesus was born.
The genealogy begins with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Jesus, is ultimately the son of Abraham. Jesus is firstly one of the many promised sons of Abraham, one of the stars in the sky or sands of the desert, both which were metaphors God used when explaining to Abraham the vastness of his progeny. Jesus is not merely among the sons of Abraham as all Jews would have been. He is a son of David. David was considered the finest and greatest king to ever rule Israel. Jesus comes from the line of the great king David, a man who God describes as “a man after God’s own heart.”
But this list tells us more than just that. These names and the stories they represent tell us some very interesting things about the people Jesus’ family. Jesus belongs to a family of tricksters, scoundrels and some pretty awful men. First there is Jacob who stole his birthright from his brother, basically cheated his way into obtaining his brother’s inheritance. I say, cheated, because come on people, a bowl of soup for a birthright is not a fair deal that would be sanctioned by any law then or now. And then to make the deal stick, he tricks his dying father, solidifying his situation, by making his father believe that he was indeed his brother, taking the birthright and the blessing of his father as the first born from his brother while his brother is away.
He was also the son of Judah, who lost two of his sons and then refused to right by his daughter-in-law, lying to her, and actively working to assure that she could not obtain her rightful place in his family. Ultimately she had to resort to a pretty elaborate ruse in order to trick him into doing his duty to assure her a line and a lineage.
Among his ancestors are several kings, one of which is Solomon. This is a man whom we remember for his wisdom. But he is not really was not the prime example of Israel’s leadership. It was his reign which ultimately split the kingdom in two and I think it would suffice to say, that the man had far too many wives and they did not always influence him in the most Godly ways.
Then there is Ahaz, another king of Israel, who was known as a king who did evil in the sight of the Lord, allowing idol worship to flourish and offered his own sons as burnt offerings to Ba’al. And along with him this is king Manassah, who not only worshipped Ba’al and Asherah, but out did king Ahaz and worshipped the stars. He even erected an idol in the temple to the starry host, as well as being known as a king who killed many of his own people. And those are just the highlights of some of the less than honorable people found in Jesus’ lineage. According to this record of the ancestors of Jesus, it seems he came from a long line of people who made some pretty poor choices with their lives.
Around the family table of Jesus’ lineage these sketchy uncles and off the mark cousins are seated right next to his three amazing, brave and courageous aunties. First is Tamar who put herself and her reputation in danger in order to trick her father-in-law to do right by her and give her what was rightfully hers. Then there are his two foreign born Aunties. Auntie Rahab, who was a Canaanite and a woman of ill-repute, but she sheltered some Israelites spies and helped the people of Israel take her city during the time period when Israel was settling the Promised Land. And last but not least is Auntie Ruth, the Moabite grandmother of David; who left her home, her family and her country of origin in order to assure the safety and wellbeing of her mother-in-law Naomi. And although she was a foreigner, and did not completely understand the culture or the entirety of the situation she acted faithfully and pursued a course of action which insured both she and Naomi were provided not only provided for but had a place in her new society and a future.
In this genealogy, the good men and women are sitting at the table right next to the bad, and all of them are proudly listed, by Matthew, here in this genealogy as the ancestors of Jesus. Each generation adds to the story and provides context allowing us to understand the people and the family into which Jesus was born.
A thread that is weaved through the fabric of Hebrew history is God’s promise for a messiah, one who will redeem Israel and ultimately all the world; making right was is wrong, mending was it broken, healing what is diseased and bringing wholeness into every corner of the globe and into the crevices of every life lived.
From generation to generation, the promise of the messiah was carried on, passed down and maintained. The people of God, some of whom wandered far from the fold, going against the laws of God, the laws of society and sometimes common decency, while others are named as fair minded kings, brave and courageous women and simply righteous men of God. Together they make up the family into which Jesus, the son of God, the hope of all humankind, the one who bring redemption to the world, is born. Together their stories are redeemed by providing the context and the background of the one who brings salvation to all. As the stories of their lives are weaved together to create the family of Jesus, their lives, their stories are redeemed. God is able to use even the worst of them, to bring them together to give us Jesus Christ, from generation to generation redeeming all of their stories in the process.
God is always at work in our lives, taking the good, taking the bad and weaving it all together to create the beautiful tapestry which is ultimately the redemption of all things. As we come to this list of names this morning some of us may see ourselves as tricksters and scoundrels. We may not see ourselves as evil, or bad, but we are not always so proud of the lives we have lived, the choices we have made. It seems to us that nothing good can come out of us, our past is too marred, we are too broken. It all seems too hopeless. Others of us can see ourselves in the God-fearing Abraham, the wise and good King David, the rebellious but righteous Tamar, the brave Rahab, or the faithful and tenacious Ruth. But no matter who we relate to in this list, the message is the same. God is always at work redeeming our stories.
God is and always has been a God of redemption; a God who sets right the wrongs, who mends what is broken, who works to bring wholeness and healing to lives and situations which otherwise seem unredeemable. God takes the worst parts of us and works to bring good out of it all. All the ways in which we have messed up, all the times we have worked against God’s will, all the times we have chosen to do wrong instead of right, all the poor choices we have made, all the ways we have hurt those around us, all they ways our actions have worked to bring hurt and harm into the lives of others, God is able to redeem those situations.
God is constantly in the business of redeeming and making right the sinful things in this world, healing all the ways that evil unleashed corrupts and degrades our lives. All the horrible things that has happened to us, all the ways we have been wronged, all the ways we have been hurt, all the parts of our lives that ache with pain, with sorrow, and with loss; God is always at work to bring wholeness and healing to those places, always working to redeem even the darkest and most hurtful parts of our stories.
The God of creation, who created all things, who looked upon the newborn world and declared everything seen to be good, desires to look into us into our lives and take even the most sinful parts, the place where evil permeates the most and bring redemption there, making right were we did wrong, bringing healing where there is sickness, mending what is broken and making us whole, declaring us, as God did with creation, “good.”
From the very moment of creation God has been at work to make all things right in this world. No matter how much we work against God, no matter how many ways we mess up and mar the beauty of God’s creation, God has always been at work redeeming it all. As we look at the very genealogy of Jesus we see that even in the less than honorable stories of those who came before him, Jesus, the one through whom we all find our redemption, was already at work bringing redemption to the stories all those who came before him. Beginning with Abraham all the way down through the generations, as we come to the birth of Jesus, the stories of all those who came before him from generation to generation, the lives of these people are showing us and pointing us to the redeeming one, who is born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem of Galilee, who redeems the generations and rewrites the script of the universe with his life.
As Christians, we know that redemption begins with Jesus Christ and extends to us and to all who will call up him, all who worship Jesus as Lord and shape our lives into the story of the God of creation, the God of redemption. The God who can make wrongs right, and bring goodness where only evil can be seen. That God is calling us into relationship so our stories can be rewritten, so that all the wrongs in our lives can be made right. No matter who we are, no matter from where we have come, no matter what the story of our lives is, God can bring redemption to us, to our story, to our lives.
Jesus the one whose story is grounded in the stories of so many men and women of faith, as well as so many men and women who fell short of “the glory of God.” Through his life he brought redemption into their stories. Jesus can, also, speak into our lives, into our stories and change the outcome, change the ending, he can speak redemption over us and make right the wrongs in our lives, whether they are wrongs, hurts and tragedies which have befallen us, or whether they are wrongs, hurts and sins we ourselves have committed against others. Jesus, the one who was born to Mary and Joseph, whose birth we have just celebrated this last week, can step into our lives and make things right, he can make whole what is split, mend what is broken and bring healing to all that is diseased in our lives and the lives of all those who love and accept his redemption. Jesus brings wholeness and healing, to all who look into arms of Mary, peer at the child held there and see the birth of all things made right, see their newborn faith, see the One in whom all life is found. Come look into the manger this morning and find wholeness, find healing and find redemption for your story.