Interest in where we come from and family background has generated much interest over the last few decades and seen many people tracing their ancestry back as many generations as possible.
It has spawned the birth of Internet sites like ancestry.com and opened up many other avenues of documented linkages with the past. However, interest in genealogy is not only a modern phenomenon; it too has a long history.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus and although Matthew gives a long account of the genealogy of the saviour, we pay little attention to it. He begins with Abraham, the first patriarch of Judaism, and continues right down to the birth of the Christ child, a long list of colourful, dubious personalities, who could make even the most scandalous of families look reputable.
Jacob did steal his mother’s birth right from Esau. Judah did sleep with his daughter-in-law. David did commit adultery and then a cover up murder. But there was also the fidelity and courage of some courageous and saintly characters mixed into this history of how Jesus came to be born.
It is interesting that we pay so much attention to the birth of Jesus, as two of the evangelists, Mark and John, did not even think it warranted a mention. Matthew concentrates on the difficulties that young Joseph was facing over Mary’s pregnancy, the Magi following the revelation of a mysterious star and finally the flight of a refugee family to Egypt.
Luke gives more detail. He begins with the Annunciation, Mary’s visit to her aging cousin, Elizabeth, the journey to Bethlehem and the location of the birth, but quickly goes to the farm animals, the shepherds and the angels, before skipping to the circumcision and the 12-year-old child visiting the temple in Jerusalem with his mother and foster father.
Somewhere in between there is a birth.
But we tell a simple story, mostly of our own making. We skip the nitty gritty of the cold, the stench of the animals and the anxious faces of the young couple. But the miracle of the day is that in the midst of this sorrow there is a miracle of grace.
We know well how to celebrate birthdays. Families, neighbourhoods, communities and the wider society all have their own customs. But we do not talk about our birth, but rather what is going on around us, the people and events that have influenced us—the sacred moments in our lives.
It is a statement of gratitude, as is the celebration of Christmas, but the gospels do not overlook the suffering and neither should we. We need to remain conscious of those displaced from their homes by violence, those who are subjected to terrible injustice and poverty, the lonely, the unloved and the dispossessed.
But inside these darkened moments and the commonplace of our lives there are sacred moments. Christmas is a time to recognise these and remember that the saviour whose birth we are celebrating also gave birth to the grace that gives love and goodness the extraordinary power to somehow overcome evil.
This has become a largely forgotten message in a world that is increasingly turning to violence as a solution to almost every dispute or event that is out of our control. JiM