That was one long list of names. A seriously long list of names. A long list of names that connects our father in faith Abraham with our Lord and savior Jesus. Ordinarily I don’t care much for long lists of names but this has some interesting characters in it. And by interesting I mean people who should in many ways be an embarrassment to have them in your family tree.
Abraham did all kinds of things wrong when it came to having descendants to populate his family tree. The details are probably best left to an adult Bible study but he had some boundary issues, I guess you could say. And yet, he was completely faithful to God, leaving his parents and homeland to follow where God wanted him to be. So faithful that he nearly sacrificed his son Isaac to prove his faithfulness. I’m not sure that’s a point in his favor but it is difficult to question Abraham’s commitment to his faith in God.
And then, Isaac’s son Jacob, that’d be Abraham’s grandson, was a real treat, too. With the help of a deceptive mother Jacob swindles his father’s blessing from his brother Esau while at the same time claiming Esau’s birthright. These are not things that necessarily sound like a big deal to us today but the people in Jacob and Esau’s time understood how incredibly important these actions were. Jacob was not such a nice guy and certainly not an honest one. Not to mention he had some boundary issues, too. It gets even better later in Jacob’s life when has the temerity to schmooze yet another blessing from God. His father’s blessing wasn’t enough, he had to have more on top of that.
So right out of the gate in Jesus’ family tree we have two out of three generations of what we might consider some less than worthy folks. And the fun continues with more fun characters farther down the line. The most famous in our reckoning is probably David who was another case study for an adult Bible study. I will just note that if you look in the dictionary (Wikipedia for those of you under a certain age) for the definition of boundary issues you will probably find David’s picture there.
Safe to say that Jesus was without sin but many of his ancestors certainly weren’t.
To be fair, there were any number of heroes in Jesus’ lineage. Rahab was a woman who didn’t have the most honored way to make a living but God used her to help capture the main city in the Promised Land early on in these stories. We’ve heard about Ruth and her faithfulness in sticking by her mother in law Naomi’s side even when she didn’t have to. And the wisdom of Solomon is legendary. Even so, legitimately heroic figures like these three had some serious boundary issues as well.
It is indeed an interesting cast of characters in this long list of names in Jesus’ family tree.
It’s a fair statement that most, perhaps all, of us have some interesting, shall we say, characters in our family tree. A couple of years ago when I was working on some of my own family tree info I found out that I have a great grandfather originally from Canada that was acquitted of murdering his wife but then remarried a couple of months later and emigrated to homestead around Syracuse. He’s buried here in Lincoln at Wyuka cemetery. Nothing certain on the details has been passed down in the family lore about this but the whole thing struggles to pass the smell test.
One way or the other it is likely that all of us have something in the family tree that doesn’t make us proud. Maybe it isn’t anything as interesting as the boundary issues of Abraham and David, or the lying and cheating and boundary issues of Isaac. And David.
What we do see here is that God doesn’t require perfection from us. Or from all of our ancestors. God will perfect what God needs to be perfect and we aren’t responsible for that perfection. The reality is that none of us will be perfect but it is in Christ we have been perfected. We, like Abraham, Jacob, David, and all the rest, have failed any number of times. We sin and we sin and we sin. And in spite of our sin, God still loves us and forgives us. In this Christmas season we continue being reminded of the gift of God coming to earth in Christ Jesus for the sole purpose of redeeming our sinful selves.
With the fact that we are imperfect out in the open, what then? We can’t earn forgiveness as that’s a gift that’s already been given. What shall we do?
This is where we begin to see the importance of the list of names. They are a reminder to us from the ancients that we’re all connected. Imperfections and all, we’re all connected and nothing can change that. Just as the ancients kept their connections to God and one another they are a reminder that God wants us to stay connected to God. And one another.
In a world that seems to move faster and faster it is easy to take one another for granted. Worse yet, in a world that seems to move faster and faster it is easy to take God for granted. As we consider the gift of God in Christ this Christmas season, and as we ponder a new year and new beginning, it’s a good time to give thought to how we stay connected. To one another. And to God.