And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved … (Ephesians 2:1-5)
Wrinkled and worn by time, the photo matched the hands of its owner. His aged hands shook slightly as he held it out for me to see, and the familiar sight filled me with fresh wonder. It was a photo of my grandmother who, in her twenties, was a wedding dress model. In this particular photo, she donned a full-skirted lace dress and over-bearing hat, though her shoes were distorted by the photo’s discoloration. Every Christmas since she passed away, my grandfather shows me the same set of family photos. Through the ache of arthritis, he pulls them out one by one – my grandmother, my maternal great- grandmother, the great-grandfather I never met, and great uncles and aunts whose names I can never keep straight, just like their childhood portraits.
My grandfather pulls these out each year because it is his way of remembering the past. When I was very young, I would roll my eyes and ask my mom how long I had to listen to the same stories before I could go play with my freshly-opened Christmas packages. But, with time and age, I have come to savor these moments, stories, and photos. At some point along the way of growing up, I realized that – despite my best millennial ambitions to be my own person – my family tree said more about me than I would have ever known. I simultaneously lived life in a world that my great-grandmother would never recognize and lived tethered to her history in ways I could barely comprehend.
The book of Matthew opens in a seemingly ordinary way. A list of names, each one rolling right into the
next, until they are almost mind-numbingly indistinguishable from each other. You might be wondering what this list of names could hold for us, or how we will possibly spread this one chapter over twenty-five days. And here is what I want to propose to you on the outset: the character of God is relentlessly published on every line of this family tree. Not only does the family tree of Matthew one lead us to the birth of Christ, but it displays for us in poignant detail the intentions of God, how He works in our world, and what He has done for you and for me. We’re going to look at characters you may never have heard of, and people you might be shocked to know are in the family tree of Jesus. And in every line, in every name, and in every story we are going to hear one resounding truth: God has intentionally sought out those who are undeserving of grace and has brought them near through His Son.
As Christians, not only is it our delight and responsibility to know God’s Word through study and reflection, but this genealogy is our family history as well. As those who are united to Jesus Christ in faith on this side of the New Testament, we have been adopted into the family of God. Though we did not join the family of God through the natural bloodline, by the blood of Christ we, who were not Israelites by birth (referred to throughout the NT as “Gentiles”), were grafted into the family tree of God. Paul, in the book of Ephesians, writes about the family tree of Christ this way:
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. (Ephesians 2:19)
Just as my family tree informs me about where I come from, who my parents and grandparents are, and who God has made me to be, so the family tree of Christ tells us who we are, where we have come from, and about the character of our great Father.
Friends, we do not do faith in a vacuum. We are not meant to live isolated lives of faith in our generation, but to be rooted in the lineage of faith before us, firmly planted on the Word of God.
So, this is our task this Advent season: let’s anticipate Christ. Let’s look back on our family tree. Starting at the very beginning, let’s learn together about our ancestors of faith, ask why they were included in the genealogy of Christ, and worship the God who brought each of us undeservingly into His family.
I can’t promise the family tree won’t be without it’s surprises and unsavory bits, but I can promise this: this is a story only our God could write.