"God's Gnarled Tree" - Advent 1
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
December 3, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 1:1-17

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Advent 1, December 3, 2017

1 Chronicles 1:1-10, 28-34, 2:1-4, 3:1-4; Matthew 1:1-17


God’s Gnarled Tree


            Today, we’re going off-script a bit. The children’s sermon and the sermon are in the “wrong” place – before the readings rather than after. And the readings themselves are “wrong”. They aren’t from the lectionary that we usually use. Rather than another year of beginning with Jesus’ announcement of his future return and then another week or two of John the Baptist, we’re focusing on Jesus’ family.


            Stories about families are told with names. Names can conjure powerful, family-defining images. Whenever my family tells stories about my grandpa George or great-grandpa Merle, they portray the men as larger-than-life. Some of your ancestors have similar stories – such as Adam Willmann or Pierre Clamme. And sometimes we hear a name and we have no particular story to associate with that name.


            Both types are true in Jesus’ family. When we hear the genealogies in 1 Chronicles and Matthew, some of the names conjure powerful stories. We hear about Adam, the first man and first sinner. There is Seth, the replacement son for Abel after his murder. There is Noah and the flood. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. King David. All of these names have colorful, elaborate stories attached to them.


            And then there are the more obscure members of the family; the ones we know hardly anything about. For instance, Abraham married again after Sarah died – a woman named Keturah – and had a number of children with her. Yet we know almost nothing about them. 1 Chronicles and Matthew go through some obscure territory, giving names that tell us very little. Aminadab, Nahshon, and Salmon? Not much comes to mind. Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim? Zip. And yet, though their stories are forgotten, their names remain in Scripture as a testament to the fact that God does not always use the most memorable, colorful people for God’s purposes.


            Nor does God use sinless people. Twice in Genesis, Abraham decides to pass off his wife as his sister in order to save his own skin. Isaac repeats the same trick once. Jacob was a liar and a thief. Out of envy and rage, Jacob’s sons sold their brother, Joseph, into slavery. King David committed rape and murder. Many of David’s royal descendants are judged quite poorly by the historical books for their tolerance of idolatry and sacrificial cults. And this is before we even get to the four women of dubious moral and blood background that are part of Jesus’ genealogy. Tamar, whose colorful story is related in Genesis 38, resorts to desperate tactics to have children after her father-in-law, Judah, refuses to marry his third son to her. Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute who lived in Jericho and hid Israelite spies before the city was destroyed. Ruth was a Moabite who, on her mother-in-law’s advice, went down to the threshing floor, alone, at night, when Boaz was passed out, to get him as a husband. And then, of course, was Bathsheba, who was coerced by King David, had her husband disposed of by the king, and became one of the king’s harem. Four women, especially women like these, in a patriarchal line of descent is extraordinary – almost unheard of. In an age where women were more or less property, their inclusion is amazing.


            The point in hearing these genealogies is this: God uses all kinds of people for God’s purposes. God’s family tree has some pretty gnarled branches on it. Ordinary, sinful people had a place in the Messiah’s genealogy. And ordinary, sinful people like you and me have a place in his family today. We are not his blood relatives. (We would have to be Jewish for that to be true.) But we are his adopted brothers and sisters through our baptism into his death and resurrection. By God’s grace alone, we are part of the Lord’s family.


            The fact of our belonging to the Lord’s family was once emphasized at every baptism in a Lutheran congregation. Turn to page 125 in the front of your green hymnal, and join me in reading the words at the top of the page:


We welcome you into the Lord’s family. We receive you as fellow members of the body of Christ, children of the same heavenly Father, and workers with us in the kingdom of God.


            All of us: sinners, saints, the ordinary and extraordinary alike, are part of Jesus’ family. In Jesus, water – baptismal water – is truly thicker than blood. It is what unites us and keeps us in one family – a family that God is determined to enlighten and redeem out of the world’s darkness.


            God has called us together. God keep us together as a community of faith, hope, and love, as people who know that his Son’s family has branched out to encompass the entire world, and includes us. Amen.


© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.