Today is the first day of Advent. This year let it become an opportunity to rekindle the childlike wonder of Christmas in a new and more deeply spiritual way. A way that holiday traditions hint at, the lights and colors and sounds of Christmas echo faintly. The way it felt as a child to behold the packages left under the tree by the magical spirit of Christmas.
While the innocent wonderment of childhood has long ago faded for most of us, something equally worthy remains, faith. This year I started at the beginning in Matthew and read it with new eyes and a new sense of wonder at the revelations of God laid bare on the page–how often I fail to see!
Matthew begins with a genealogy of three sets of 14 generations: from Abraham to David, from David to the exile to Babylon and from the exile to Messiah. With even a scant familiarity with the Old Testament it packs a wallop.
First comes Abraham, the barren old man to whom God promised descendants as numerous as the stars, the man God said would become the father of a great nation.
This family tree then follows a series of epic twists and turns, such as Tamar, mother of Perez and Zerah, who tricked her father-in-law Judah into sleeping with her by posing as a prostitute. Or Rahab, the Jericho prostitute whose faith led her to save Joshua’s soldiers and helped bring down Jericho. God made her the mother of the righteous Boaz, whose great love and provision for Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, foreshadowed Christ. In fact, Boaz’s son, Obed, became the father of Jesse, and from “the stump of Jesse” came King David, fulfilling the prophecy that Messiah would come from the line of King David.
Truth be told I used to skip over this family tree to get to the real story. But now, this once- irrelevant preface has blossomed to life as I’ve come to know the stories of those family members and God’s movement through their life stories.
I also was newly amazed to read that the magi arrived in Jerusalem asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” For the first time I realized the impact of using this title in that moment; that simple question provoked the slaughter of all the little boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem. That certainly underscores why 33 years later the same title was used to execute the one who got away. (Matthew 27:37).
This reading I also was struck by Matthew’s painstaking effort to point out how the birth of Jesus fulfilled four prophecies about the Messiah’s place of origin, prophecies that on their face are so oxymoronic as to seem impossible for one person to fulfill:
- The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, Micah 5: 2, 4
- At the Lord’s command Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt until Herod’s death, which fulfilled Hosea 11: 1 that “Out of Egypt I will call my son.”
- In verses 17-18 Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31: 15, which foretold of the slaughter of the sons of Bethlehem.
- And after Herod died, an angel of the Lord directed Joseph to return. Because Herod’s son, Archelaus, had ascended to the throne, Joseph took his family to Galilee, to a town called Nazareth, fulfilling multiple prophecies that Messiah would be called a Nazarene (Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 53:3; Zechariah (various portions); Psalm 22).
My prayer is that this Advent, we would embrace the enforced stillness and quiet as spaciousness to experience fully and anew the waiting and anticipation of both then and now. May our hearts be filled–as if for the first time–with the unending, unfiltered brilliance of his glorious light, pouring forth in abundance over a dark and weary world.