Sunday, December 20, 2009

Genealogy Sunday

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Today is the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, the day known as “Genealogy Sunday”. I did a little research into this and as it turns out, the word genealogy has nothing to do with the study of genies. Instead, it’s based on a couple of hifalutin Greek words that together pertain to the study of one’s ancestry or family tree. Apparently you can learn a great deal about a person from such a study, and the genealogy of Christ is no exception. His genealogy reveals to us the mercy, humility, and incredible love of the Son of God for mankind.

There are two genealogies of Christ recorded for us in the gospels; the other can be found in St. Luke’s account. Matthew traces Christ’s lineage back to Abraham, demonstrating that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to that holy patriarch that from his seed would arise One in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. St. Luke, the historian, goes even further, tracing Christ’s ancestry all the way back to Adam. By this he shows that Jesus is the Last Adam, the One who comes to undo the disobedience of the First Adam, together with the consequences of death, brokenness, and alienation from God that our First Parents brought upon themselves, their world, and all of us their children, according to the flesh.

Both genealogies combine to reveal a God who would not abandon us in our misery, but rescued us from it in the only way possible: by entering into it Himself. The greatest proclamation of Genealogy Sunday is that our God did not save us from the sanitary, comfortable distance of heaven, but instead voluntarily assumed our humanity and leapt right into the cesspool we had made of our world, in order to clean our mess and bring us healing unto eternal life.

If we were to take the time to research all of the names that the deacon just read to us, we would discover an amazingly human collection of people, replete with all the glories and failings you might expect from such a group. Christ’s family tree includes a mix of holy people along with some who were exceedingly evil. Many were kings, and of these, some faithfully worshipped the God of Israel, while others led the people into the worship of false gods and idols. The wicked Ahaz went so far as to sacrifice his own son on a pagan altar. Even some of the best, like David and Solomon, were not without their glaring faults. And Ruth was a gentile!

While the old saying is that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your relatives, in this case we understand that God did indeed choose each and every branch of Christ’s family tree to include both the best and and the worst examples of humanity. Surely this was done in order to give us hope. Christ allowed Himself to be physically identified not only with the saints and lovers of God, but also with the ignorant, the wayward, and yes, even the wicked. And this great and colorful line of humanity culminates in a young girl, Mary, the daughter of the righteous Joachim and Anna, from whom the Son of God took our human nature, joining Himself to our race, and was born.

Most Americans take little notice of saints, but there have been a few--like Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Father Damian of Molokai--that have risen to gain the attention even of the most secular of folks. Perhaps that is because these two examples were very incarnational in their ministry. Such as these did not serve from beautiful, luxurious suites in Manhattan, but literally entered into the terrible worlds of those who were suffering and joined themselves to them. Even non-believers recognize that there is something more genuine--dare we say, even more Christian--about such sacrificial, “hands-on” types of ministries, over those that simply preach inspiring, soothing words to others from the comfort of pulpits and studios.

As St. Matthew noted for us, the heart of the Christian good news is summed up in one of the prophetic names given to Jesus, Immanuel, which means, “God is with us”. The news would not be so joyful if it only meant that God is with us in spirit, that God was only watching us “From a Distance,” as the once-popular song by Julie Gold proclaimed. No, the Christian good news is that God is with us in the most intimate way possible. He has joined Himself to our race, become one of us, and allows each of us to become partakers of His divinized human nature if we will have it.

Most people remain tragically oblivious to this great news and live their lives as if it never happened. Even a surprising number of Christians today struggle with the idea of calling Mary the Theotokos or bearer of God, because they cannot bring themselves to accept the bold and startling truth of the incarnation. Over the years, several misguided believers have shared with me their thoughts that God must have created a fertilized ovum, separate and complete, to implant in the womb of Mary, making her in effect the “surrogate mother of God” rather than the one from whom the Son of God accepted humanity to genuinely become one of us. If what they say is true, we are still lost, for what is not assumed cannot be saved. Yet some persist in this outrageous belief because it is so difficult for them to imagine that the pure and eternal, spiritual God would stoop so low as to assume our human flesh so completely.

Despite human misgivings, that is exactly what the Son of God has done, and not just for thirty-three years, but for all of eternity. God is with us, joining Himself to us, joining us to Him.

I once heard an old preacher say with great sarcasm that if you’re going to “go along with the Catholics” and start calling Mary “the Mother of God” then you’re going to have to call Joachim and Anna the grandparents of God, and continue all the way back to calling King David the Great-great-great-(and so on)-grandfather of God, “And pretty soon,” he laughed, “You’re gonna have to say that Jesus is related to everybody!” He thought this was a great joke, and his congregation laughed along with him. Imagine Jesus being actually related to men; how preposterous!

But isn’t the whole point of the genealogies in the gospels to show us that the Son of God has entered into our race and become one with the family of man? He shares a common humanity now with all people, and we who are called by His Name share an even greater joining with Him by virtue of the new birth of water and the Spirit at Holy Baptism.

This is what we contemplate on this Genealogy Sunday, by way of readying ourselves for the joyous celebration of the Nativity of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. God is with us! We are not alone in the physical or emotional sufferings that seek to cripple and destroy us. We are not without powerful help in our struggle to overcome the passions and sins that disease our life and darken our souls. We have not been abandoned or left without any hope of drawing near to God in all our misery. God is with us to help us and to deliver us from death. Though it is often so hard even for Christians to accept this great truth, the Son of God has joined Himself to us and has become our Brother. Christ is born, and we are saved by His great mercy, humility, and incredible love. All praise to Immanuel; God is with us!

+To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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