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Who Gives Kudos:


   Monday, August 22, 2011

Meaning and Comfort where I didn't expect it


“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: (2) Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. (3) Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. (4) Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshaon begot Salmon. (5) Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, (6) and Jesse begot David the king.
David the King begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. (7) Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. (8) Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehosaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. (9) Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. (10) Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. (11) Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.
(12) And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. (13) Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. (14)Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. (15) Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. (16) And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
(17) So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generals, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.” (Matthew 1:1-17)
                The genealogy of Jesus Christ is the first thing written about in the New Testament. This is how the first Gospel according to Matthew, who was a disciple of Christ and was once a Tax Collector, started out his account of Jesus with this long list of names. So who cares, right? The first time I read a genealogy in the Bible I got confused and lost in all the “begots” and strange names I had no hope of pronouncing correctly. Besides, why should I care? What does it matter? What could I possibly get from God by reading through this not so easy list of son of sons? I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the people reading this just skipped over this first passage in the Bible to get to what I have to say about it, or think about it. Once upon a time I would have done the same. So I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to read through all of it.
                But, I was wrong. There is a reason for this list. Genealogy is important to us, even if we don’t admit it. If it wasn’t important to us web sites like wouldn’t be in business. People want to know where they come from, and how far back we can trace our family tree. We like to know what happened. Clicking on those little green leafs to find out some interesting tidbit about an ancestor we didn’t even know we had is always fun and exciting. I understand, trust me, that this may seem completely irrelevant considering your family tree is very personal to you while the list of names above mean nothing to you. Those names, however, should mean something to you.
                More importantly these names meant something to the nation of Israel during the time this book was written. Israel had prophecy hundreds of years earlier about the Messiah who would be born of the line of King David. Matthew is simply trying to lay out his leaf littered parchment on how Jesus is of that line. This traces the bloodline of Joseph, who is Christ’s adoptive father, all the way back to Abraham who is the father of the nation of Israel. And I know a bunch of you are probably going ‘whoa, hold on here!’  Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus so why should his heritage matter? I once, in my ignorance, tried to tote this off as proof that the Bible isn’t always true. Yeah, I was that person. 
                Matthew is writing this book with Israel in mind. According to the Jewish legal system then the bloodline of someone is always traced through the father, even if the child is adopted. Matthew makes it clear in the next few verses of who the true Father of Jesus Christ is. But to help the first generations of Christians talk to Israel about who Jesus is, they needed to know his bloodline. The bloodline of Israel was extremely important in their history and culture in that time. The tribes of Israel were split in two. Each tribe had a prophecy spoken about them in Genesis 49. Each tribe was given a specific place to camp around the tabernacle in their 40 years of wandering in the desert. Each tribe had a certain order and place when they went to war. These names meant something to Israel. A lot of these names play roles in the history of Israel. So it was important to show the connection Jesus had to the history of Israel, as well as the fulfillment of prophecy in the Old Testament of the Messiah coming from the line of David.
                I know this still may seem silly considering this is all about Joseph, and Joseph wasn’t the biological father of Jesus. Don’t worry, however, as you can find the genealogy of Mary in chapter 3 of Luke. That genealogy is traced all the way back to Adam. So why didn’t Matthew do that? Because Matthew was a tax collector. He concerned himself with the laws of Judaism which clearly traced heritage through the father, adoptive or not. Luke was a physician, who concerned himself with the biological bloodline, so he researched Mary’s lineage. And yes, both come from the bloodline of King David.
                Which brings me back to an earlier statement I made, these names should mean something to you too. A lot of these names have biblical stories behind them. Their names and stories litter the Old Testament, which was taught every Saturday in the temples during the time of Jesus, and before the time of Jesus. Those are the names of real people who did real things who affected history. Jesus isn’t just some made up man who appeared out of nowhere. He came from real people who lived real lives. God became a man through Jesus. A flesh and blood man who had grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. These names are a promise and comfort God has given to me. He understands.
                Jesus just didn’t appear as a full grown adult. He started off as a baby. He had relatives who probably weren’t so nice. He played as a toddler. He probably did dishes or helped with the laundry. Jesus might have even had pimples, or went through the awkward growth spurts where His limbs probably weren’t all symmetrical nor did they grow at the same rate. Jesus had his voice crack and change in puberty. Jesus was teased as a child, as a pre-teen, as a teenager, and certainly as an adult. He grew up as we all have. Jesus knows, and understands, this process because he has gone through it. He was a real man born out of real people.
                That comforts me. Heck, I can’t trace my family line back farther than my grandparents without the tools found on a website. Here in Matthew, at the very start of the Gospel, God said ‘This is how My Son came to be.’ That list of names isn’t just a list of who begot who, it is a litany of history. It is a name by name version of how Israel went from one man, Abraham, to what it was when Jesus was born. Each name is a generations worth of reasons why Jesus was, and is, needed. There are 42 generations of fallen, broken people who committed sins just as I have. 42 generations of people who have committed sins beyond my own. 42 generations of reasons why God could have turned His back on all of us. And 42 generations of the miraculous mercy, patience, and love God has for all of us. God is saying here is a long list of a family who has done almost everything they possibly could to me to make me turn away from them. And God loves us all enough to then give us the very last thing we could take away from Him. We murder His only begotten Son, Jesus.
“(18) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. (19) Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)
                Wow. Just so we are all on the same page back then being betrothed was just as binding as being married. Two people couldn’t simply break up after they were betrothed. They actually had to get a certificate of divorce to end a betrothal. So this was a pretty big deal. Joseph, who hasn’t even touched Mary and probably didn’t know her very well, just learned that she is pregnant. Women back then were put to death if they were not virgins on their wedding nights. Joseph has every right, as well as the legal backing, to make a public spectacle out of Mary. He has the right to drag her through the streets, heralding her pregnancy in front of everyone. He has the right to demand a divorce from her. He had the right to do all of this, and more. 
                So what does he have the mind to do? He considers taking her away from the two in secret so no one will know of her pregnancy. His first thought is to spare her life, and her soul by not damaging it with publicly humiliating her in front of everyone she has known her entire life. He doesn’t take her onto various ‘day time talk shows’ to reveal the truth to an audience. He doesn’t explode in a volatile rage at her. He doesn’t act in any of the selfish, prideful ways our culture is not only known for but often thrives on as entertainment. Just consider that. This is before Joseph knew who exactly the father of Jesus was.
                I can only pray for that level of compassion. I know I often fall short of it. I let my injured pride, or my own disappointment and pain rule my first reactions to situations. And to be perfectly honest that isn’t very Christian of me. For all Joseph knew Mary not only betrayed him, but she publicly shamed and humiliated him by not saving herself for their wedding night. This was huge. I can’t even imagine how Joseph actually felt when he found out; but, I can imagine pretty well based on some of my own life experiences. And I can promise you I didn’t handle any of those experiences with the compassion, love, calm, and care about the other party as Joseph did for Mary. It really just boggles my mind. In one verse Joseph puts me to great shame for a lot of my choices in life. I can only hope, pray, and try so hard to be the same sort of God-loving soul that he was.
“(20) But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (21) And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’
(22) So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: (23) ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’
(24) Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, (25) and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20-25)
                Now just try to imagine one of those nights when you’ve gone to bed with some heavy weight on your mind. That night you had a very hard time getting to sleep because your heart and soul were just sick with something. Then, finally, you fall to sleep. Woot! Right? As you are sleeping try to picture the awesomeness of an angel of the Lord appearing to you and solving your problem. That angel simply laying out how to deal with whatever is troubling you. How would you wake up from that? Would you have the guts to believe what just happened? Would you follow the instruction or advice the angel had given you? Or would you dismiss it as just an overactive imagination or too much coffee, or maybe even a bit of undigested food?
                I can speculate that I would listen, believe, and obey. But to be honest I might not. I have had many dreams in my life that lean me one way on a problem I was having. I have casually dismissed those dreams as nonsense and went in the exact opposite direction. These situations have rarely ended remotely pretty. I have learned, thankfully, to start listening to my dreams when God talks to me through them about things. I, granted, haven’t ever had an angel of the Lord appear to me in all their glory in one of my dreams. I like to console myself with the thought if I had this happen I would have listened on all those other occasions. Which probably isn’t true. Most Christians these days, sadly, no longer believe that God still talks to us through dreams.
                Joseph, however, saw and believed immediately. I know the Bible doesn’t go into the depths of Joseph’s mindset on this entire thing. He could have had doubts. He could have been freaked out of his mind. He could have had an entire morning devoted to trying to talk himself out of the truth of what he saw. I won’t know any of the things Joseph thought or did until I am in heaven with him. The truth is all those reactions aren’t what matters. Those reactions mark him human, but only one action marks him as extraordinary. He believed and obeyed. It doesn’t matter if he struggled with it, doubted it, was angry about it, or freaked out about it. He still believed the Lord and obeyed. Despite all his humanness that more than plagues me…he trusted God and obeyed. 
If only I could be so devoted.  Joseph was devoted to God. He was devoted to Mary. And he was devoted to a son that wasn’t even his. Joseph had to put himself off of his list of most important people and things. He had to completely put all his emotions and his wants as a newly married man, aside. He took care of Mary. He helped Mary give birth. I doubt Joseph had medical training in prenatal care or understood the importance of good hygiene. Joseph was there for Mary, her strong rock, as she went through something no other woman on earth will ever understand. Joseph had to love Mary for those nine months knowing he could get nothing physical in return. Which is a pretty big deal back then, and is a huge deal now. In our society it is a common belief that a mere dinner and movie should earn a romp in the sack with whatever woman they happened to pay for. Joseph devoted his entire life at that moment to help Mary carry Jesus to term and deliver Jesus into this world. It boggles my mind.
                In just the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament I am comforted, humbled, shamed, and inspired. That is a lot of emotions to have balled up into just 25 verses. But God is good like that. We just have to look for Him to find these things. He shows us what matters, what is important, and how we should live. Joseph isn’t mentioned a lot in the Bible. He isn’t a prophet. He didn’t write any part of Scripture. But Joseph, in just a few sentences, sums up what a husband and man should be. He is a brilliant light of how a Christian should behave. When I read these few verses about Joseph it warms a seed in my heart about how I hope my husband will be. I want a man like Joseph. A man who will believe and obey and trust in God even when all his humanness tells him not to. I want a man who will show me compassion when the laws and customs of the world tell him not to. 
And I pray to the Lord for the love, heart, and strength to do the same for my husband. I pray to the Lord for the guidance to be all this and more to my Raggedy Andy. I never really saw Joseph as an example of love or devotion until today. I am thankful that God, again, has shown me the error in my way of thinking.
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