24 December 2012
Sermon on the genealogy of Christ
Have you ever thought about the fact that the people of the Middle Ages didn’t think of themselves as living in the Middle Ages? No; as far as they were concerned, they were modern. All the world’s prior history was leading to their time.
And so it is with us, too. We children of the 60s and 70s had a saying, “Never trust anyone over 30.” We were the center of history; our parents and grandparents were old folks. Then time played its cruelest joke on us. We got older than 30. We had kids, and now we have grandkids. We have become our grandparents. And we have discovered, just as every previous generation, that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Like the old hymn says, “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away/ They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.”
Each generation thinks that it is the point of history. Time proves us wrong, so some move to the other extreme—the view that history has no point, no center. History is just “one thing after another”—in the words of Macbeth, it’s a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Today’s gospel sets things straight. History does have a center, a focus, a point. But it’s not us, here…it’s two thousand years ago and an ocean away. St. Matthew goes through the genealogy of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. And what a tale it tells!
We hear of Abraham, the friend of God and father of the faithful; Isaac, the child of promise, the one who showed Abraham’s obedience; Jacob, the sneak, who got the blessing by deceit. It’s a story of sinners. Unlike most genealogies, it lists some women, too. But all of them have a question mark by their name: Rahab the harlot…Ruth the foreigner…Bathsheba the adulteress.
We hear, too, of the high and low points of Jewish history. From God’s promise to Abraham till David the king, 14 generations go by. From that pinnacle to the exile into Babylon, another 14 generations. And from the Babylonian captivity till God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled, took another 14 generations. Promise… Kingship…Exile—all lead to the center, the point of it all—the birth of enfleshed God. For history is, you see, his story.
And because it is his story, it is our story too. When God the Son became man in the womb of the Virgin, he took on our humanity, in all its fullness, apart from sin. Isn’t that what today’s gospel is all about?
God the Son’s becoming man is, for us, a comfort. We do not have a God untouched by our weakness. He knows what we’re going through. He knows hunger and thirst, he knows poverty and temptation. He even knows sin—not because he sinned, but because he took our sin on himself and conquered it for us.
God the Son’s becoming man is also a challenge. There are many human beings, but only one humanity. When I say, “I am human,” “You are human,” “Christ is human,” the word “human” refers to one and the same thing.
We have a habit of excluding some from the human community. When the head of the NRA spoke about the school shooting in Connecticut, he referred to “monsters among us.” Some of our leaders refer to the Iranians seeking nuclear power as “insane.” When we were broken into, some of us thought, “What kind of person would do that?”
But the reality is, there are not two or more humanities. All these people: the school shooter, our enemies on the world stage, and those who hurt us personally—all alike share the same humanity with us, and with incarnate God. So do the poor, the prideful, the weak and the wealthy.
The challenge for us, then, is to love them all alike—not making distinctions, not allowing for classes, not treating anyone different from another. For God the Son became man, and in his incarnation he embraces each and every one of us. Let us, therefore, embrace each other in love! History is his story, and his story is the story of abiding love, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.