Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Advent Weekday: December 23

Genesis 49:2,8-10
Psalm 72
Matthew 1:1-17

REFLECTION: “O Emmanuel”

It's rare to find a New Testament passage as boring as our Gospel reading today. In good old King James-ish English, you'd be overwhelmed with 'begats'... there's 39 of them; and yes, I went to count just to make sure I got that little factoid right.

Does it matter? I mean, as long as the Savior is born of a Virgin, who gives a great begat about who begat whom... right?

Well, if we care about redemption, it sorta does matter.

Very little in Scripture is inconsequential. The genealogy of of Jesus appears in Scripture. Twice. So it's important. But, the two genealogies of Jesus... Matthew's version and Luke's... are irreconcilable. They have to be. An op-ed piece on CNN this morning insisted this was so, so it must be true!

Now, for those of you who have heard me preach on a regular basis, you know what I am about to say, so please feel free to take a moment to check your mobile devices while I beat my favorite dead horse... when you don't take Scripture in context, you're left with a mess and contradictions you can't understand.

As Christians, we accept Scripture as the revealed Word of God, transcribed through the work of human authors. But it's still God's Word, and so it is vital that we understand the context in which the inspired writers were composing their texts. 

Dead horse beaten... now, let's break down the 'contradiction':

Matthew is writing to the Jews. He is showing forth the King of the Jews, the descendant of his ancestor, David. And so, contextually, Matthew's genealogy reflects the royal line of David. Luke, on the other hand, is writing to a broader audience, mostly Gentiles. They have no strong connection to the Hebrew lineage, theirs having departed from Israel's somewhere between the time of Babel and the rise of Abraham. Luke traces Jesus' ancestory records back to Adam, through the direct line of blood, as opposed to the Royal Line that Matthew was striving to emphasize. 

Additionally, in the ancient Near East, it is important to recall that breaking up genealogies into male and female representations was acceptable since it was often impolite to speak of women without proper conditions being met - specifically, a male being immediately associated with the woman. Therefore, it is a strong possibility that Luke's genealogy is Mary's line, tracing biological connections back to the first man, while Matthew's is Joseph's, since Joseph stood in the royal line and Mary did not. Thus understood, there is no contradiction.

"But wait," you may say, "both genealogies mention Joseph!" Right you would be; but remember, Joseph is the head of Mary through marriage in Jewish culture of the time, and sons-in-law were accounted as sons of the bride's house. Thus, Luke's genealogy is quiet probably Mary's, and Matthew's is quite probably Joseph's. 

Now, a disclaimer - these theories are the best supported by context, cultural research, and the witness of Scripture itself. They're the best we have. There may be another explanation we haven't thought of yet. And, if there is, that's OK. Why? Because in both instances, the genealogies are emphasizing the heart of today's "O Antiphon".

O Emmanuel,
our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Yahweh Elohim!

Do you remember what Emmanuel means? "Our God is with us." The exact details of reconciling the two genealogies are not as important as what they show. Jew or Gentile, slave or free, sinner or saint, king or peasant - the Incarnate Word did not simply hijack some flesh for thirty-some years. He immersed himself in our life, our condition, and became sin that we might be rescued from sin and liberated for eternity from its grasp. Our God truly came to be one with us in every way, that we might be restored to unity with him.

So, the next time the 'begats' get you down... remember, regardless of your family tree, we are all connected to one another through Adam... and one of his own descendants, Jesus, has become one with us for all eternity. Through him we are reunited with God in eternity. And that, my friends, is the greatest Christmas gift of all.

For Further Study:
CARM: Why are there different genealogies for Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3?