Today’s gospel gives us a crash course in ancient Israelite history. Many familiar names stand out and it’s intriguing to think about how long God had been setting the stage for Our Lord’s arrival. By human standards, the first Christmas was a very humble event, with only a few shepherds in attendance. But in heaven, the celebration must have been unprecedented in scale. The angels must have erupted in praise at the long-awaited birth of the Son of God as a human child. And yet, it’s tempting to gloss over Our Lord’s genealogy. It’s long and monotonous, and full of names only of interest to a scripture scholar. But, as we might expect, Our Lord’s family tree has many worthy, powerful, and important ancestors. It begins with the patriarch Abraham, who started it all by responding to God’s invitation to trust in his seemingly impossible promises. There’s also Jacob, who wrestled with an angel, as well as King David and King Solomon. This is a noble lineage worthy of Israel’s Messiah.
And yet the list is full of surprises. It includes kings so evil that they brought down God’s punishment on the whole nation. There are also people so obscure that they’re mentioned only here.
Several women are also included, which is unusual for a Hebrew genealogy. And they’re not just ordinary women. Two are Gentiles, one is a prostitute, one an adulterer, and one was too weak to obtain justice without resorting to a despicable subterfuge.
Now, if these people made it into Our Lord’s family line, then surely there’s a place for us. Whether we take our places in a long line of believers or have made our own way into the Church, we are here by God’s design and by his invitation. We have received the faith from others in the family of God, and it’s part of our vocation to hand on this faith on to those who will follow us.
With only a week to go to Christmas we might spend a little time today thinking about our heritage. Who handed the faith on to us? Who encouraged our desire to know God and to become part of his family? We should thank God for our spiritual ancestors.
Unlikely as it may seem, we are important links in the chain. Younger people are looking to us to hand on faith and our tradition to them. Our quiet faithfulness may be a witness that draws someone to explore his or her own call to friendship with God, to membership in the Church, or as part of this community. Without doubt the Church has its giants and heroes, but God takes a special delight in using ordinary people like us.