First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
3Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Psalm: Psalm 122
1I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house | of the Lord.”
2Now our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity with itself;
4to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
the assembly of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord.
5For there are the thrones of judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7Peace be within your walls
and quietness within your towers.
8For the sake of my kindred and companions,
I pray for your prosperity.
9Because of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek to do you good.”
Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-17 The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
17 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 Messiah, fourteen generations.
CHILDREN’S SERMON: Turn to a neighbor and tell about a relative that impacted your life story.
Let us pray: Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, the eternal I AM, who incarnated among his creation, and who still comes to us.
Today we start a new church year. We will look at the Christian faith story through the eyes of Matthew. Matthew opens the New Testament and starts his account of the Christian faith with a genealogy. Advent 1 focuses on a theme of Prophecy and Hope. Life is not random. We do not despair as we look at our world. We know God has prophesized wars, illness, poverty, injustice, and false prophets who will try to convince us that God is not able or is not wanting to make our lives happy. But prophecy assures us God is leading us into an eternal reality, unlike the problems of this life. God cannot be defeated. The New Testament and Matthew start by tracking God’s faithfulness.
The beloved Christmas story, It’s a Wonderful Life, is a favorite Christmas movie Frank Copra produced and that came out in 1946, along with us Baby Boomers!!! Viewers follow the life of George Bailey who dreamed of traveling the world and escaping small town America. We long to escape the problems that plague our lives and so we identify with George. The death of George’s father forces him to choose between his dream of running around the world or running the loan business his father owned. He sacrifices his personal dream. George marries a hometown girl, Mary, and raises a family. So far, his story is ordinary. Enter the villain, Mr. Potter, the bank owner, whose greed tries to defeat George. George despairs and decides to commit suicide. He figures he would be “better dead than alive.” A chorus of prayers ascend to heaven and in response to the prayers for George, Clarence Oddbody, Angel 2nd class who has not earned his wings is sent to help George.
We are not at the movies. We are at church. This movie, though, helps bring the Matthew Christmas story into the reality of our lives. The Matthew account of Christmas is unlike Mark and Luke’s account. I hope by relating Matthew’s perspective on Christmas to this beloved movie, we will bring the ancient story into Baby Boomer reality. In the Biblical story we find hope, peace, joy and love – our Christmas banners. Lord, open our hearts to hear your story that impacts our story with hope today.
The Backstory: Prophecy: Hope
Matthew opens with a long genealogy that we usually skim past because the names are hard to pronounce. But genealogies give us the backstory putting the present story in context. We gain perspective for what is to unfold. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life opens on Christmas Eve. Clarence Oddbody, Angel 2nd class is chosen to go and help George. He has “the IQ of a rabbit” and the “faith of a child, simple.” He has an hour to prepare and so is told to sit down, listen, and he is asked,
“If you’re going to help a man,
you want to know something about him,
I might rephrase this quote for us today, to challenge us:
If you’re going to believe in Jesus Christ
You want to know something about him,
Genealogies give texture to names. We might say we come from a long line of farmers or that we are just like our ancestor who was artistic. Of course there are those skeletons in the closet we don’t talk about much. Then there are the shadows of people who died of cancer, Alzheimer’s or some other disease that plague us with fear. Differently abled relatives are hard to put in context. Pride, shame, and fears will be met in thee tonight, O Bethlehem, as a new child is born.
The Matthew genealogy opens, tracing from Abraham to Joseph who is the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, “who is called the Messiah.” Similarly, the movie starts with an overview of George Bailey’s life. Clarence Oddbody, Angel 2nd class sees George Bailey as a kid who saved his little brother Harry’s life when Harry slid into a hole in the ice. George lost hearing in one ear so as a teenager did not hear Mary profess her love at the soda fountain. George also had to choose whether to deliver the wrong prescription to a family or correct his boss, Mr. Gower, the pharmacist. We meet Mr. Potter bullying George’s father as George ran to his father for advice. Fast forward, George’s father died and George must decide between his desire to travel the world or assume the responsibility of his deceased father’s business so his brother can go to college. It is those choices that bring George to the present point of crisis. Likewise Matthew shows us the choices Abraham’s descendants made that brought the Jewish people to this moment that is about to unfold in Bethlehem. It is the events of our life that have brought us here today and impact the decisions we will be making as we go forward into our future.
Let us look a little closer at the genealogy of Jesus. We see that the problems that are brewing and affecting life in Israel are not a God problem but a human problem. Matthew starts with Abraham, the father of the Jews, to first trace human frailty that requires a Messiah. Jesus must be TRUE MAN to deal with a problem that is rooted in humanity. Likewise, if the United States bombs Russia to save Ukraine, it will be called aggression and so we hear about all the help sent to Ukraine so they can fight their war. The genealogy shows God’s help to us to fight our human war with sin.
The first 14 generations start with Abraham. God steps into the life of Abraham and makes a promise, a covenant, Genesis 12:2
“I will make you into a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curse you I will curse and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God is making a promise about what will take place in the future. It is prophetic. But why Abraham? Let me ask again, why Abraham? God chose a stiff-necked and stubborn man to work with and to form and be the bearer of his promise. God also chooses us to work out his promises. Why us? Grace. Amazing. God gets the glory.
In that first set of the Matthew genealogy we see a list of ordinary, flaky people with questionable lives. They come from multiple ethnicities that form the family line of Jesus. God speaks to these people, making promises, molding and guiding them as they make moral decisions, into a future they cannot see.
Abraham lies about Sarah and allows her to be put in a haram in Egypt. God protects her and in their old age son Isaac is born. God promises that people more than the number of stars will be blessed. More than our children are blessed by our life as we trust God for our inadequacies. Isaac follows father Abraham and lies about wife Rebecca but then has twins. Younger twin, Jacob, steals his brother’s birthright and deceives his father to get the family blessing but then is deceived by his uncle Laban. He marries two sisters because he is so drunk he does not realize he has married the wrong sister! Talk about a dysfunctional family! God can work with us. Jacob’s son, Joseph marries the daughter of an Egyptian priest. Meanwhile Jacob’s fourth son, Judah, has relations with Tamar, a Canaanite, who was Judah’s daughter-in-law. We are deep into human frailty now.
The story continues though. Ruth, a Moabitess, has a son by Boaz who is the son of Rehab the harlot. Oh my, why do we think our little problems are too hard for a God who promises over and over to bless Abraham’s descendants? The genealogy clearly shows us that the New Testament that is about to unfold is not about our wonderfulness but about God’s faithfulness. We are human and flawed. Jesus is born into our mess. Unless we understand that Jesus is under the same sentence of death as we are, the hope of the resurrection that comes with Christmas is hollow. We serve a God who incarnated into a line of ordinary sinners and will bring salvation. We must acknowledge our past, our sinfulness, to truly appreciate the blessings of Christ now and for the future to be. Angel Clarence Oddbody learned about George to understand his dilemma.
The second 14 generations start with King David. If we look at the second group of people, we see a list of kings. The genealogical focus has shifted. The people of God refuse a theocracy where God is our social leader and they demand a king. People want a leader they can see rather than trust a God they cannot see. Saul, the first king is flawed but God is not defeated and has David anointed, “a man after God’s own heart.” David is just as fallible with blood on his hands plus he sleeps with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (and God does not cover that up!).
But this genealogy is not about David. It is about God building a kingdom of people, a priesthood of believers. It is about community life. Through this second set of genealogy we see kings, flawed leaders living out the responsibility in the positions God has put them in. Some make good choices and some make bad. Even we make good and bad choices. God speaks into these kings’ lives and watches over the kingdom He is forming. Prophecy is not just about my salvation. Prophecy is not just about Jesus dying on the cross for my sins. The story goes on to the resurrection and the formation of the church with leaders just as flakey as the kings. God is still working, forming us, his kingdom and promising the return of Jesus. Hope! George Bailey has life events that explain him but at the same time George is creating a story of community. Our lives impact the community forming around us.
So why the third set of names in the genealogy? The focus changes again. The third 14 generations starts, “after the deportation to Babylon… Matthew is writing his Gospel to a people who know their cultural heroes, who know the Jewish national history of glory under kings like David and Solomon, but who also live in a reality of oppression by a foreign power, in a struggling economy, persecuted and out of favor. Something has gone wrong! The names in this third set are for the most part, little known to us. Mostly it is those books of the Bible that we call the minor prophets and often ignore.
My thought is that Matthew is telling us that in the face of fantastic prophecies of a promising future that will start to come about with the birth of the Christ child, everyday life is hard. Most of us live life after having gone through messes like the exile. Matthew is setting up for the cross that comes between the prophecy and the fulfillment. George Bailey represents every person who has a history of choices made that brings the person to their present crisis. Something has gone wrong in George’s story and something is wrong in ours. We need God’s help.
We can only have hope today if we know we are sinners and will die. We have not loved God with are whole heart, soul, and mind. We can only have hope if we understand that Jesus incarnated, suffered with us, and now stands in the Godhead for us. Suffering is not God abandoning us nor necessarily punishing us. During hard times and defeats, we do not need to loose hope because God is faithful to his promises and is working in ways we do not understand.
God was not defeated by all those faulty guys in the first fourteen generations. God covenanted with real humans. God was not defeated in forming a kingdom by all those very human kings in the second fourteen generations. God is not defeated by the twists and turns of history, the sufferings and hardships, nor the momentary triumph of evil. There is hope for George Bailey for there is a God hearing the prayers of George’s friends and watching George’s life unfold. Like Joseph, “the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ,” we are an important part of the Christmas story. We can be people of HOPE as we look at how God has been faithful to work with us to bring about his promises. Many generations were blessed through Abraham. All people were blessed through Jesus. May we share God’s blessing during this Advent season and live as people of Hope.
Let the people of God say, “Amen!”