Matthew’s gospel begins, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah…and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Messiah.”
Here in Mathew's first chapter we are invited in to view Jesus’ family tree. Told and read for centuries. Taught in Sunday School (possibly) to answer that age-old question: “Where did Jesus come from?” It is an interesting account of his “birth line” (and that is a conversation that I would love to have on our screened porch sometime), but I don’t know if Jesus would say it was family. Or at least, not all his family.
We are also told that Jesus’ family was chosen. Matthew's recounting of Jesus' lineage gives him a place and space. Mary's story tells us more.
These are the words from the Gospel of Luke’s first chapter: The angel went to Mary and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."
Both gospel stories holding his story, his kin. Both giving shape to who he was in the bigger faith story in unique and powerful ways. One story just wasn’t enough for him in the telling of his life in the holy scriptures. His story was bigger than that. Jesus would come to claim his family – given and chosen.
At some time during my work with folks infected and affected with HIV/AIDS, I first heard and came to understand the phrase of families given/families chosen. Back then so many of men and women with whom I worked had been discarded by their families (as if that’s possible). Many of them came to traditional and nontraditional moments in their lives knowing that they were no longer welcome or accepted in their birth/given families. I knew men who stopped receiving birthday cards, were no longer welcome at the holiday celebrations. Men who when it came time to write their wills knew that their families wouldn’t accept anything if it were left to them. So then, what did so many of those women and men do? They turned to the people around them who had been loving and cherishing them all along. The images of “sister” and “brother” were born again in ways that brought strength, comfort and identity. Some of these folks came to more fully know the real meaning of “family values” when they stepped into their chosen families.
Maybe the same can be said for us. Many of us hold our memories of growing up and sitting around the kitchen table with our `given' families. Many of us have also, along the way discovered families of choice. Sisters and brothers who have walked and talked us into embracing life and going on. Sisters and brothers who have been forgiving and optimistic, listening and encouraging, singing and dancing us into more of what can be true of who we are becoming. Sisters and brothers who have shared wisdom and table and story. Family of choice and choosing.
Advent is this time to recognize our history, what has brought us to where we are now. It is the time to stop and take stock of what has been important, precious, informative, life-giving for us. Advent is a time to look, as well at what is with us now.
For this coming week using the image of roots, we will think about ways we wait in place – deeply rooted to our life source AND at the same time stretching and moving on toward what is calling to us from Bethlehem. Advent is surely a time to look toward what is next for us. Do we feel ourselves turning toward what is coming, just ahead? Is it possible for us to do both at the same time? It would take a miracle.