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We Make the Stories; We Tell the Stories; We Are the Stories

1 Advent, Year A

27 November 2022

Matthew 1 and Isaiah 2:1-5


It

is impossible to deny our connections with the past. Advent and Christmas bring a torrent of memories. This is the season where, for me, wondrous things happen. Snow and fresh baked cookies. I can still recall the taste of my mother’s date pinwheels, eaten after coming in from creating a snowman, with mighty effort to get each large mound of snow on top of the previous one and trying to find just the right things for a nose and eyes. It was a time to get out the stencils and tape them on the windows, filling in the holes with Glass Wax mixed with food coloring. The best memory was Christmas Eve when it would be snowing, and I would try hard as I could to see Santa coming through the sky. Christmas time was also the season in which my father died. He, in turn, recalled a Christmas spent cold and huddled in what he hoped was a safe place as German artillery fire filled the Belgian countryside. Both my parents recalled certain foods (the only time of year one got a fresh orange or oysters) and time spent with family. Memories of our childhood, of the stories of our families, of the stories of our faith, and handed to us, sometimes as carefully as a precious gift, sometimes as an unwelcome visitor. One generation recalls the deeds of a previous generation and shares those with the generation to come. The story of Christmas is like a mural, with those from the past, present, and future, contributing to the story of our liberation. Mary understood this when she sang that all generations would call her blessed “because the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name. He shows great mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him”

Jesus’ genealogy is messy, just like our own. It includes Tamar, who seduced her father in law when he refused to provide a new husband for her. Rahab, the Canaanite woman who helped Joshua’s army capture her own town, married an Israelite and became the mother of Boaz, who in turn married Ruth the Moabite. Their grandson David took Bathsheba as a wife and she secured the throne for their son Solomon. Luke, using a different lens, projects Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam. We don’t hear of his backstory until he starts his ministry. Interesting that Luke says people supposed he was the son of Joseph. And indeed, just as Emily is my daughter even though I did not give birth to her, Jesus was the son of Joseph. Then Luke has the audacity to claim Jesus’ ancestry goes back to God! So who is right? If you are a fundamentalist and a literalist, both lists are factually accurate and you must accept that to be a true believer. Skeptics point to the impossibility of either being remotely possible and therefore the whole corpus of Christian belief is bunk. There is a third way, or as we Anglicans would say, a via media, a middle way. These are stories of kinship, of belonging, of coming to know ourselves through our roots. Our faith is handed down to us through our ancestors, those who existed in the scientific sense of the word and those who existed in the mythical sense of the word. In times past and even times present, we create genealogies to put ourselves in a good light. For instance, if you are an American you claim bragging rights if your ancestor came over on the Mayflower but not the White Lion, the first ship to brings African slaves to this continent.

The lineage of Jesus was a marker of the competing strands of Christianity: Jewish only, or Jew and Gentile? Sadly it was settled in a way that led to generations of anti-Semitism.

In each generation we choose what we keep and what we pass on. Those who came before us chose what they gave to us; sometimes dismissing things they did not want to share, the things my mother called “dirty laundry”, but often hiding those things that make us who we are, the things that can liberate us. Immigrants would not let their children speak the language of their homelands or practice the customs or perhaps even eat the foods they knew. People try to sanitize the genealogy of their countries, using terms like “woke” to deride people who want to face the truth. Jesus said the truth will set you free. Think about that. Facing the truth and lamenting the wrongs that have been done can lead us to a place of wholeness. As one commentator said, “You have inherited what cannot be stolen by empire,” because all can taste and feel God’s justice, mercy and love.

“It can only be erased if you choose not to pass it on. … We are meant to inherit and co-create a just world for all,”

Isaiah visualized what this might meant; in embracing our shared inheritance we become a beacon of light. Of all the Hebrew scripture, it is perhaps the book of Isaiah, and of all the book of Isaiah these particular passages, that epitomize the teaching of Jesus. Zion will be redeemed by justice and those who live their lives by righteousness. My mother was wrong; the dirty laundry will never be clean until it is placed in the light of the sun. Those who insist there is only one sanitized version of history are wrong; we will continue to live in darkness until the entire truth is faced. What if, for once, we actually acted on the words in Isaiah? What if, instead of a multi-trillion-dollar military budget, we prioritized human needs? I invite you to go to that mountain and learn the ways of God. You will learn that we humans are closely related and that we are intricately bound to one another, and to all of creation. Our ancestors gave us gifts through what they did well and good and even through what they did that was wrong and evil, for we see the results of both.

Jesus came to be the fulfillment of all the Isaiah said; he came to teach us to beat our swords into iron plows. He took the promises and the story of his ancestors and opened the book to everyone willing to listen and to accept.

What is your story (your family story, your Christian story) and how have you been led and how are you being led from generation to generation? See if you can find a multigenerational picture of your family. Then embrace those family stories as we embrace the Advent journey.

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