First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
December 3, 2017 – First Sunday of Advent
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Matthew 1:1-17 (adapted)
I obtained this interactive rendition of the genealogy of Jesus found in the Gospel according to Matthew several years ago. My understanding is that it was developed by the late Rev. Dr. Doug Adams, who taught at Pacific School of Religion. The text is read and the congregation interacts by following cue cards. The instructions for the cue cards are in parenthesis in the following text.
The Book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (APPLAUSE and CHEER), the son of David (APPLAUSE), the son of Abraham (CHEERS). Abraham was the father of Isaac (APPLAUSE), the father of Jacob who stole his brother’s birthright (BOO), and Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers who sold Joseph into slavery (HISS). And Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (HUH?) by Tamar (HUH?), and Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminidab (HUH?), and Amminidab the father of Nahshon the father of Salmon who was the father of Boaz by Rahab, the prostitute (BOO), and Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth (CHEERS and APPLAUSE); and Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David. (CHEERS).
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah whom he had murdered (HISS); and Solomon was the father of Rehoboam who was a good king but abandoned God’s way for several years (BOO), and Rehoboam was the father of Abijah who had fourteen wives (CHEERS and BOOS), and Abijah was the father of Asa, a good king but who did not walk in the way of the Lord at the end of his life and so died of gangrene of the feet (MOAN), and Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat who was a fine king ruling wisely most of the time (APPLAUSE). Jehoshaphat was the father of Joram who was the father of Uzziah whose pride brought his fall (BOO); but Uzziah was the father of Jotham, a very good king in every way (CHEER), who was the father of Ahaz, a very bad king in every way (HISS). And Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah who cleansed the temple and the kingdom (CHEERS and APPLAUSE). Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh who ruled for fifty-five years (APPLAUSE), but who was evil for most of that time (BOO). Manasseh was the father of Amos, who was the father of Josiah who did right in the eyes of the Lord (CHEER); and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the deportation to Babylon (HUH?).
And after the deportation to Babylon, Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel who was the father of Zerubbabel, a governor of the people and chosen by God (APPLAUSE). And Zerubbabel, was the father of Abiud (HUH?) and Abiud was the father of Eliakim (HUH?), who was the father of Azor (HUH?), who was the father of Zadok (HUH?) who was the father of Achim (HUH?), who was the father of Eliud (HUH?), the father of Eleazar (HUH?), the father of Matthan (HUH?), the father of Jacob (HUH?), the father of Joseph (APPLAUSE), who was the husband of Mary (CHEERS), of whom was born Jesus whom we call Christ (APPLAUSE and CHEERS).
So, all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the birth of Christ fourteen generations (WOW!)
I don’t remember Uncle Mert.
He was my grandfather’s brother. He died when I was 17 or 18 so I probably met him. I just don’t remember much about him personally. What I do remember is, from the stories the family told, he was a bit of, shall we say, one of the family’s more colorful characters. But, he’s part of my family. He actually looks a lot my grandfather and I can see a bit of my dad in him as well.
I don’t suppose any of you have any of the “colorful” characters in your families, do you? I don’t suppose any of you would actually be considered your family’s colorful character, would you? Well, don’t worry. Even the best of families have their share of people who make for juicy stories and keep the bloodline interesting. Even Jesus’ family had some shady spots in it. Even Jesus had some “Uncle Merts”: people like kings who are bad in every way and who die from gangrene of the feet, and boys selling younger brothers into slavery, and prostitutes.
We tell the story of the Holy Family with a focus on Mary, saintly, pure, innocent, young. Or we tell of Joseph, obedient, wise, strong, gentle, loving, faithful. Throw in a few angels singing the Glory of God and some shepherds who go tell it on the mountain…. and everywhere. We tell the story of a handful of wise men with their extravagant gifts and propensity to wander around with their heads in the stars and it’s a story of innocence, vulnerability and mystery. It becomes the family story of all the achievers and kings who do the right things, the obedient, the faithful, the stellar. It’s a great story. But, it’s the story of a family that just doesn’t exist because every family has their Uncle Merts.
We go through a lot to keep Jesus pure and holy and unblemished. Yet the very text that tells of his family, includes a very human lineage into which he was born: an ancestry of saints as well as scoundrels, a heritage filled with people who were good in every way as well as those who were rotten to the core, a family lineup that is so predictably human it could be the lineage of anyone of us in this room.
And isn’t that the point? When God decided to change things up a bit and enter into the realm of earth, it wasn’t so that all the perfect people and flawless families could experience the divine descending into their lives and make them more perfect and more flawless. It wasn’t because people had goodness and mercy all figured out and were really good at it. It wasn’t because everyone was healthy and whole and had no cares in the world. It was because life as it is could use a little holiness. God seems to realize that real life is about admitting we mess up—a little and a lot—and so God shows up to teach us about grace and give us more chances—lots more chances. God gets that we are more like Uncle Mert than we like to let on and so God shows up in the middle of a shady family tree and reminds us that even the Uncle Merts of the world are loved. Got gets that we get sick and we hurt and that loved ones die and we are sad and we live with illness of body and soul and people just don’t know what to do with us and so God steps into all of that and shows us the blessings that come when life is at its hardest. God just shows up and reveals that life is blessed and holy and messy all at the same time.
Whenever God decides to do a new thing, like have a young woman give birth to a child who is sung to sleep by angels and told of by travelers from another culture and race, it’s because the old way just doesn’t seem to be cutting it. When God slips in beside us in the messiness of life, it’s because poverty, scandal, corruption, pain, and suffering exist and those living in the craziness of it all could use a little divine company. When God defies the natural order of things and comes all vulnerable like a baby, complete with all the messiness of babies into the midst of chaos, it’s because we are all vulnerable at some time in our lives and striving for perfection because we think that’s what God wants, only makes things worse.
It’s why we like Charlie Brown and his Christmas tree so much.
We’re all a little bit like Charlie Brown, not quite with it all the time. Sometimes picked on. Not perfect. Not straight A. Not the most popular. A little funny looking. But—who sees the beauty in a tree that is looked over time and time again.
And, we’re a little bit like that tree, kind of sad and scraggly, looked over, not quite what our neighbors are, or pretend to be. But when God’s ornament of love rests alongside us, all that scraggliness, imperfection, looked over reality is made holy… just as it is.
Life is not perfect. We’re not perfect. Families are not perfect. The world, in all it’s beauty and splendor is not without flaw. Our lives, as much as we try to make them error free are not. We make mistakes. Others do things that bring harm.
And so God steps into the midst of it all and simply says, it will be okay. It will be okay. It won’t necessarily be easy but, it will be okay. And that’s what makes life holy. Not what we do but what God does. Not who we are but whose we are.
So, in this season filled with the expectations of perfection: the perfect decorations, the ideal gift, the family gatherings that, if nothing else, will be civil, take it easy on yourself. God’s not expecting perfection. You shouldn’t either. In fact God doesn’t expect it ever. God simply asks that we make room for a little holy blessing once in a while. It reminds us that God’s capacity for being present in our lives is much bigger than we might think. Whether we are the family Mert or an angel, we should always have room and time for a little God presence. It’s how we become part of the family of Jesus, that holy, human, blessed by God family of Christ.
Thanks be to God.