This time of year brings families together. Sometimes they are people we only see at this time of year and what brings us together is not similar interests, ideas or stage of life, but rather biology. They are our family.
Some families who gather at this time of year exhibit laughter and good humor, and for some families there’s tension, if not conflict. In some families there is good humor and conflict. Family relationships can be complicated and things don’t always work out as planned.
The lives of those in the Bible were not that much different from ours in that way. The Gospel according to Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus’ ancestors, which includes Old Testament figures such Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Rahab and Ruth; Jesse and David. The genealogy lists 42 generations of people leading up to the birth of Jesus.
The people listed in the genealogy with which Matthew opens didn’t always get along with one another or behave very well. Fathers showed preference for certain children over other children. There were sibling rivalries. Children were conceived under suspicious circumstances.
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Jesus’ father, Joseph, was not spared from those kinds of complications. The young woman, Mary, to whom he was engaged was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit, except Joseph and Mary didn’t know yet about the Holy Spirit’s involvement. From Joseph’s point of view all of a sudden Mary was pregnant, which meant that Mary had been unfaithful.
Mary and Joseph were betrothed to one another which meant that they were as good as married. Given the situation, Joseph being a righteous, compassionate man, decided to dismiss her quietly. Before he did that an angel appeared to him in a dream.
The angel said to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” In this brief announcement the angel links Joseph to his ancestor David, names the origin of the child as from the Holy Spirit, and describes what this child will do, save his people from their sins.
Joseph does what the angel commanded. He brought Mary home. They did not consummate the marriage until after she had a son, and Joseph named that son Jesus.
Matthew says, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’” which means, ‘God is with us.’”
Matthew is quoting from the prophet Isaiah and these words from Isaiah referred to the expected birth of a prince from King David’s line who would be a sign of hope to the people of Judah, hundreds of years before, during the reign of King Ahaz, when the city of Jerusalem was threatened by nations around it. The child born of a young woman at that time was to be a sign that the threat to Jerusalem would end before that child was grown.
As a child was born during a complicated period of history, giving hope to the people Judah and Jerusalem that they would continue as a people, Jesus is a similar sign of hope that God continues to abide with his people, even going so far as to save them from their sins.
There’s the saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. That’s what’s going on here. Jesus is continuing the pattern of God’s action. He continues to be a sign of God’s promise to be with his people and save them, in this case, from their sins.
We usually think of sin as breaking some set of rules whether they are the Ten Commandments or another list. Sin is fundamentally more than that. Sin is one of the manifestations of a state of being, the state of being separated, alienated. Theologian Paul Tillich said that “To be in a state of sin is to be in the state of separation.” That means separation from God and separation from one another.
When he grew up, Jesus met people who were separated from God and more often he met people who were separated from other people. When Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry and gave sight to the blind he also brought these people back into relationships with other people, and when he did this we would often tell them, “Your sins are forgiven.”
We are vastly different than Jesus’ ancestors in many ways, but in other ways we are not that much different. We are prone to the same folly, pain, discord, disappointment and sin that they were. Our relationships with one another can be as complicated as those depicted in the Bible. And as God was for them, God is for us. God is a God of steadfast love who continues to be a saving God, who through Jesus, is with us, and for us, saving us from our sins. Through the power of his grace, God opens up a space in us and between us the way of forgiveness and reconciliation which overcomes separation from God and one another.
The Bible story is Good News, for it tells us of the Good News of a God who is with us despite our faults and frailties. It tells us the Good News of a woman named Mary who would bear a son, whose father, Joseph, would name him Jesus, for he will save us from our sins.
Daryl Hay is the rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Downtown Bryan.