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 **************************************************************** 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...

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