November 17, 2019 – Sermon

November 17, 2019 Psalm 72, Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 1:1-3a, 5-6, 16-17; Luke 1:26-38
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At a certain time in our Methodist church wedding liturgy, the pastor invites all the congregation to join in blessing the marriage – saying: “The marriage of Mary (for example) and Joseph (for example) – unites their families and creates a new one. They ask your blessing…”

We know Mary and Joseph are not yet married in today’s gospel readings…But we also know – in Advent we await the birth of Jesus – even though we know – Christ has in fact been born – and has lived among us – and been crucified – and is risen from the dead – and we await, now, his return.
(We don’t have to be trained scientists or theologians to know – even if we can’t explain it all – the mysteries of time and space are closely related…And…)
Perhaps there’s a rough analogy if we think of time zones – with all the different zones operating at the same time, yet each with it’s own unique time. (When it’s noontime here it’s midnight in the Philippines.) But I’m thinking now mostly of the different cultural ways of telling time in our readings today. As –

Matthew’s gospel begins with a 42-generation genealogy of the Messiah – divided symmetrically into three equal segments of 14 generations. (Seven being the Jewish number of completion – doubled, perhaps, to add emphasis.) Fourteen generations from Abraham, the first Jew, to David, best king and prototype, it was thought, of the Messiah King. Fourteen generations then from David to exile in Babylon, the apocalyptic time when Jerusalem was conquered and the temple torn down. Fourteen generations finally from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.

A very selective genealogy, as was normal in antiquity. Not every generation or ancestor is listed. (Jacob had twelve sons. David had dozens of sons.) The point isn’t telling every detail – or even making every detail be historically correct. Genealogies were intended, like a coat of arms, to remind us of key points in our family history. So Matthew’s opening genealogy traces the lineage of the Messiah through a select group of ancestors who would resonate with virtually everyone in Israel in those days.

We were talking about genealogies in our bible study group last Thursday. Starting with Matthew’s genealogy – looking also at the genealogy that takes up all the first nine chapters of First Chronicles… Skimming quickly genealogies in Genesis. Noticing – even just saying the names aloud… reminds us of so much biblical history…

Reminds us also – people of old who didn’t have tv, computers and cell phones were either a lot more patient than we are….Or enjoyed hearing names of their spiritual ancestors more than we do. Or both.

I once read Matthew’s whole genealogy aloud in church. A member of our Grand Isle Vermont church told me afterward how much she enjoyed hearing the whole 42 generations recited aloud. Well – she had been Town Clerk for many years – perhaps hearing all the names reminded her of cross-checking the town check-list of eligible voters. But she was an exception to the general rule. Most people, even those who claim to read the whole bible, skip over the genealogies… Yet –

Genealogies can teach us a lot – if we get to know the stories within them. In seminary classes on pastoral counseling we were taught to get people planning to be married to prepare an annotated genealogy or ‘genogram’ for each of their families – including notes on each family member. (Like– uncle Jack drank a lot, Aunt Martha didn’t. The next generation nobody drank…The generation after, everyone drank, but not too much.) By observing family patterns carefully, prayerfully, we can learn to discontinue unhealthy patterns passed down to us… And learn to keep positive family patterns alive…

I remember asking my mother’s sister, aunt Mimi, about our family for a paper I was working on in a seminary class on Marriage and Family. I asked, “How would you describe our Montana side of the family?” My aunt replied right away “Strong women… (Pause….) And… good-looking cowboys…” We got talking about my maternal grandparents – Mimi and mom’s parents. Their mother died young, in her fifties, from a rare disease. Later, granddad married one of the staff at my uncle Jim and aunt Ellen’s dude ranch. Aunt Mimi told me about being with her dad at a family reunion, looking at slides together, and her dad asking “who’s that good looking woman sitting next to me?”
“That was your second wife, dad…” (No need to add ‘the one who ran off with the wrangler.’)

No need to say more than we should, but… Reminds me of the encounter referenced in Matthew’s genealogy, where the patriarch Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar have an encounter that lets us know – not recognizing each other as family is a biblical pattern, old as Genesis. That pattern continues with Joseph and his brothers just a little later in that same first book of the bible.

I don’t expect instant love for biblical genealogies. But noticing family patterns is part of understanding the nativity of our Savior…and… Biblical genealogies really can be helpful and fascinating… As we learn the stories that go with the names… And let the stories speak their lessons to us…

Imagine, if you will – angels doing pre-marital counseling with Mary and Joseph as they sleep…. Reviewing Joseph’s genealogy, whispering in his ear, “Joseph of royal blood – descendant of David and Solomon – Remember your ancestor David’s love for God….And… Remember your ancestor Solomon, who led Israel into idol worship… which led to the exile in Babylon…”

Unfortunately women’s genealogies have not been preserved – except embedded in mostly male genograms. But we can imagine the angels saying to Mary and Joseph –“Study the lives of these four women in Joseph’s genealogy. Be reminded of these strong women – and the men who sometimes actually listened to them… ”
“Remember Tamar and Judah in Genesis (38). Remember Rahab in Joshua (2 and 6). Remember Ruth and the book that bears her name. Remember Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, mother of King David’s son Solomon… Remember each of them is a blessed grandmother of the Messiah.”
“Remember all the strong women in our biblical family. Because people will always talk. And some people will always misunderstand willfully. So you need to know your family story better than they know it. Or think they know…”
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We don’t know when or how Mary told Joseph about her encounter with the same angel Gabriel who spoke last week in the Jerusalem temple to Zechariah the priest – righteous but childless in his old age. Gabriel promised a child to be named John. Zechariah couldn’t quite believe the angel’s promise. Now he’s silent, unable to speak, through the whole nine months of his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
But now in the sixth month – here’s angel Gabriel again – telling young Mary now, still a virgin, engaged, not yet married to Joseph – “a child will be born to you courtesy of the Holy Spirit. Name him Jesus. He will inherit the throne of his ancestor David and rule forever and be called Son of God.”

“How can this be, since I’m a virgin?” Mary asks. “No worries,” the angel replies. “God will do this, the child will be holy… And your relative Elizabeth whom everyone said is barren is now in the sixth month of pregnancy.”

Last week Luke’s gospel opened in political time, saying “In the days of King Herod of Judea…” Now Luke tells us we’ve entered the Pregnancy Standard Time Zone – Nearing now the end of Elizabeth’s second trimester… About to begin the first trimester of Mary…

Who, when the angel says “Nothing will be impossible for God,” replies– “Let it be with me according to your word.” Making for quite a contrast with Zechariah – who could not believe the angel’s word.

Mary gets to yes so very soon.
Her husband-to-be Joseph, not so quickly. And…

We’ll be visiting with Mary and Joseph again next week… and the week after… We’ll continue looking at family pictures with them…Continue remembering our family stories together… As our Annual Advent Family Reunion continues…

May it be enough for today just to be reminded – Mary and Joseph have indeed each said yes to God and to each other. They have completed pledging all their marriage vows.
Now their two families have become one…

Now we’re all adopted members of this one large blended family of their Son.
Now they ask our blessing –

Our commitment with them – to keep the whole family of Jesus alive and growing in the love of God… forever.

May we say yes together, always.

Thanks be to God. Amen.