Creating New Families Out of Thin Air

Creating New Families Out of Thin Air
Matthew 1:1-17
Written by: Rev. Dexter Kearny
Preached by: Rev. Liz Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
November 27th, 2022 – 1st Sunday of Advent

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

It’s important to know that Matthew’s decision to open his gospel with this genealogy of Jesus, was right in line with Jewish tradition. These genealogies appear often throughout the Old Testament and were always less concerned with getting the exact biological ancestry correct and more interested in invoking particular stories of their ancestors that would explain how we got here. Honestly, maybe your family does a version of this too! Gathered around a meal table, I remember my dad telling the stories of discrimination my Grandpa Ole faced when he emigrated from Norway as a 12 year old boy, or my mom telling me how Grandma Barbara quit her smoking habit cold turkey the day she realized she needed that money to buy my mom a new pair of shoes. Those stories aren’t just historical facts. They are moments in time my parents have lifted up again and again to tell me something about how I ended up where I am and what kinds of things matter going forward.

And goodness gracious, what I learned this week is that this genealogy has a fascinating story of radical inclusion to fold us into as we look back through the generations that brought us to Jesus. First, this genealogy names five women with wild stories. If you follow along in our daily Advent devotional (which starts today and is available in the back!), you’ll read more about them this Tuesday. Artist Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman writes in that Tuesday reflection that each of these women “took their life and survival into their own hands. They were catalysts who propelled the lineage forward.” (Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman, From Generation to Generation… An Advent Devotional: Art, Poetry, & Reflections for the Season of Advent – A Sanctified Art –, Tuesday – “There’s room for every story”, pg. 4) Tamar, when her rights were snubbed by her father-in-law after the death of her husband, tricked her father-in-law into getting her pregnant with twins so that her family line wouldn’t stop with her. Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, sheltered Israelite spies in Jericho and secured a place for herself and her family because of her bravery. Ruth, a Moabite woman, cleverly and bravely navigated her way through a patriarchal system to make sure she and her mother-in-law had shelter and food after their husbands had died.  And the “wife of Uriah”, Bathsheba, survived sexual assault by King David himself, and she made sure her son Solomon was the one to take the throne of Israel. Scholar Amy-Jill Levine writes that “these women are not sinners as some early church fathers suggested;” She says, “were sin the genealogy’s concern, then many of the men listed would be better candidates.” (Amy-Jill Levine, Women’s Bible Commentary, Third Edition: Revised and Updated, edited by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, Jacqueline E. Lapsley, pg. 467) No, these women did what women have done since the beginning – scraped and scrapped to make a way when there was no way. They crafted a path through trauma, through grief, through patriarchal absurdity so that they could make a better life for their children and their chosen families. 

Here’s another feature about this genealogy to note – you may have noticed that this line leads to Joseph, Mary’s husband, someone who is not biologically related to Jesus. So what is that – just more patriarchal oppression making this about tracing lineage through a man even though it was Mary whose body gave birth to Jesus without Joseph’s help? Maybe. But given Matthew’s inclusion of some of the Gentile women in this genealogy, there’s another explanation to consider: What we know is that Joseph essentially adopted Jesus. At his own and Mary’s peril, he refused the path of putting Mary at risk by throwing her out when he found out she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Instead, he stayed by Mary’s side and claimed Jesus as his own son. And there are some scholars today who would say that this is Matthew’s way of affirming adoption as a pathway to parenthood that is just as legitimate and thoroughly real as becoming a biological parent. After all, any of us who are not Jewish are considered adopted into the family of God through Jesus. So running this family line through Joseph is one way to say that God is a God who doesn’t need biology to make new family. God makes real families, kin, out of thin air. Because our God who created the world with a word is a God who can make new families out of anyone, everyone, all of us. 

These oddities in the genealogy, they aren’t just historical facts. They are moments in time that Matthew is lifting up at the very beginning of this story to tell us something about how God’s people ended up where they are and what kinds of things will matter going forward. And as we’ve heard today, the message is clear – in God’s kin-dom, we are all called to make family out of each other even when that seems impossible, not burying the trauma and pain we have been through, but laying it out in the open in our storytelling so that the world will know that the Spirit helped make a way for us. Not limiting the ways that we become kin to one another to biology, but adopting one another into deep, intimate bonds that show everyone around us that there’s always, always more room at the table for them to find a welcome. This is hope, y’all, that word we lit a candle for today. When you’re sharing breakfast with our unhoused friends at the shelter, you’re right there in God’s kind of family, making kin where no one expected it. When you are a member of the queer community crafting deep relationships in communities of care despite the ways your own biological families may not have embraced you, you’re right there in God’s kind of family, making kin even out there in the wilderness. When you’re reaching across the boundaries society has engineered to keep us divided and standing in solidarity with those targeted by systems of greed, you’re right there in God’s kind of family, making kin where it wasn’t supposed to appear. When you’re more concerned with every being finding welcome at your table than with making sure to follow all the rules, you’re right there in God’s kind of family, making kin out of thin air. 

A strange numerical note about this genealogy – there are 14 generations named between Abraham and David, and then another 14 between David and the Babylonian captivity, which scholars have said is likely a symbol completion, since 14 is 2 x 7, the number associated with wholeness in Jewish thought. But in that generation between the Babylonian captivity and Jesus? Only 13 generations named, with Jesus being the 13th. And guess what? Scholars believe this is because Matthew wants us to know that the “fourteenth and final generation is that of the church.” (The Jewish Annotated New Testament, by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine, pg. 11) The end of this genealogy has left an open question from Matthew to us – will we take our turn in this lineage as the 14th generation of the church? Will we join the saints who came before us in being wild weavers of new kinds of families that disrupt oppressive social norms and make ways of belonging out of no way? 

I’ll leave you with this poem written for this Sunday by Rev. Sarah (Are) of A Sanctified Art, the organization that provided most of our liturgy for today. Hear now these words reminding us that in the wildly-woven family of God, there is always, always room. (“Room”, a poem by Rev. Sarah (Are) Speed, From Generation to Generation… An Advent Devotional: Art, Poetry, & Reflections for the Season of Advent – A Sanctified Art –, Sunday – “There’s room for every story”, pg 1)

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