Advent: Don’t Skip the Genealogies

I recently began an Advent study during my personal quiet time (Advent: the period of time before Christmas, usually beginning on Dec. 1, in which Christians reflect on Christ’s first coming while looking forward to his second). I’m reading through the accounts of the birth of Christ, and surrounding events, in both Matthew and Luke.  Much to my surprise, the part I used to skip has become the most meaningful to me this year: the genealogy  in the beginning of Matthew.

The book of Matthew, written to a Jewish audience, begins by outlining the bloodline of Christ all the way back to Abraham. In Jewish storytelling tradition, this is how the truth of a tale is established. But is that it’s only purpose? Christ’s genealogy is listed not just for the Jews, but for me. It might just be for you, too.  

It’s For Those Who Are Waiting

Patience has never been my strong suit. I’m not very good at waiting– just ask my husband or my parents. When I want something done, I want it now. Actually, yesterday would be better. So the wait outlined in the genealogy of Jesus sounds agonizing to me. 

The bloodline starts with Abraham, the father of Israel, with whom God made a covenant to bless the entire world through his descendants. The nation of Israel was part of that promise, but it finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Between Abraham and Jesus are 42 generations. Not 42 minutes, which is still more than I like to wait for anything. Not even 42 years. 42 generations.  From Abraham to King David are 14 generations, then 14 more between King David and Israel’s Babylonian exile, then a final 14 between the exile and the birth of Christ. 

God promised to send the world a desperately-needed Savior. He delivered on that promise right on time– 42 generations later. Whatever you’re waiting for right now, God will keep his promise, and it will be worth the wait.  

It’s For Those Who Are Messy

Ever felt too messed up and broken for a holy God to love, let alone use? You’re in good company. The genealogy of Christ reads like a who’s who of misfits, dirty sinners, and the last people the church would accept. 

Abraham, the father of Israel, tried to make God’s promise come true himself by sleeping with his wife’s maidservant. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and ran away, then had children with three different women. Judah slept with his daughter-in-law thinking he was a prostitute. Rahab actually was a prostitute. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed in battle. Solomon was an idolater with 700 wives. And the next 12 or so generations, kings of God’s chosen people, became progressively more wicked until God said ‘enough,’ plunging the whole people into exile for their sins.

And you think you’re messed up.

God chose adulterers, idolaters, liars, and worse to fulfill a salvation plan formed at the beginning of time. Why? Maybe as a reminder that none of us are ever too far gone to bring him glory.

It’s For Those Who Feel Hopeless

Never in my 24 years have I lived a year that felt more hopeless than 2020. When the pandemic began in March, many of us were under the impression that this whole mess would last a couple months at the most. But as the months ticked by, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to become a moving target. People continued to lose jobs, sometimes more than once. Others lost loved ones. Businesses had to close their doors– some temporarily, others permanently. It seems like we’ve been surrounded by death and loss all year, wondering if the light will ever shine on us again.

That sense of hopelessness also puts us in good company. The genealogy in the book of Matthew is relayed in three sections of 14 generations each. The first is Abraham to King David. The second is King David to the Babylonian Exile. The final section is the Babylonian Exile to the Messiah. After 14 generations of increasingly wicked rulers in Israel, God said ‘enough,’ and allowed Israel to be captured and enslaved in Babylon. For 14 generations, the Israelites remained in captivity. I wonder when they stopped imagining a light at the end of the tunnel? “God must be done with us now,” they must have thought.

But little did they know, it was coming. At the end of 14 generations, the Messiah came. He came not just to free His people from foreign rule, but anyone who wants to be free from the rule of their sin. As hopeless as this year may feel, we have the ultimate hope in Jesus Christ. 

As crazy as this year has been, I hope it has driven you into the Word, our source of true and lasting peace. And when you’re in the Word, don’t skip the genealogies. They’re not just for the ancient audience– they’re for you, too. 

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