It just happens that this year the last part of Advent begins on a Monday, which makes the last days of preparation for the coming of the Lord seem nice and tidy.
The days that fall between the 17thand 24thDecember (and the Fourth Sunday of Advent) are more focused on the people who cooperate (more or less) with God’s plan.
Up until now, the dominant Advent character has been John the Baptist. He has got us to this point. Now, other players come onto the field, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph. we tend to think of Mary and Joseph as important figures in the Christmas story, and, of course, they are. They are also people who can teach us much about our Advent journey.
Before we get to them, however, we begin with a whole list of antecedents. The gospel for the 17thDecember lists a ‘Who’s Who’ and a ‘Who you’ve probably never heard of’ in the bible. Commentators have great fun with this genealogy of Jesus Christ and it’s worth taking a look at some of the ideas they have. Three things stand out for me.
The first is that, when reading the list, I am sure I never pronounce some of the names the same way from year to year. Against my own advice and normal custom, I do not practice this gospel. You’d think it would be the one passage from scripture you would want to go through beforehand. I don’t, and for one important reason: I want to be as intrigued (and confused) as everyone else. I want to be reminded that the ‘Word of God is alive and active (Hebrews 4, 12-13) and comes to us as we are.
I am also aware of how interested people are in genealogy these days. Priests get a lot of requests from those who are researching their family history. This makes sense.
We want to know where we came from. In the past, families lived more closely, and had a tradition of passing on stories about who was who in the family. Now, we rely on a journey of individual discovery and often on written or static records. These can only tell us so much; what they were really like or the impact they made can only be conveyed by another, telling us, giving us their impressions.
Their versions might not always be accurate (to say the least) nor even fair, but it makes them come alive. Which comes to my last thought about this passage.
When we look into these characters mentioned by Matthew a little more closely, we realise that his gospel is not trying to give us an accurate description of who these folks were, nor, as you will probably have noticed, are the sums right!
What is more important is the remembered relationship between God and his people and how, despite failings and pitfalls, there were some who carried on with God’s plan. Jesus was born into a real people, who came from real people who carried the message to…real people. This last period of Advent is anything but tidy!
This is a time when we think of family and friends. In a quiet moment, remember them, even, and especially, those with whom we have lost contact. Bring each of them to mind as lovingly as you can.
It is in these relationships that our deepest joy and deepest sorrow is felt. Bring your real life to the real God.