They Brought Us to this Place
Jesus is born of Mary but his lineage traces back through Joseph. Before Jesus’ birth in Matthew’s gospel comes the genealogy of names, familiar and strange. A guiding thread runs through the messy pages of history: God like a scavenger uncovers salvation in the debris and treasure of human lives. Unlike the litany of the saints, this roll call places scoundrels alongside the blessed. The child welcomed by shepherds and Magi represents the whole of Israel and all peoples.
Only four women are named on the ancestral tree of 52 branches: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba. These women are marked by scandal, exclusion, and courage. The widow Tamar, disguised as a prostitute, is engaged by Judah, her father-in-law, and bears twin sons. Rahab is remembered as the harlot who hides the Israelite spies in her home before the battle of Jericho. Ruth, the Moabite woman, leaves her people to accompany her mother-in-law, Naomi, and bear the family an heir. Bathsheba is seduced by the king, who then kills her husband. Prostitute, traitor, foreigner, rape victim. The unusual aspects of Jesus’ birth are heralded by the notoriety of these mothers. We come to recognize what is holy in new ways.
In our day most care more about genes than genealogy. Our memories go back one or two generations before fading like cheap photos. The absence of a past counts as freedom: as individuals, we are not shackled by old ways. We spring up fresh like wildflowers on unplowed prairie. When the situation gets grim, we move on or dream of starting over.
Advent pulls us back from the emptiness that haunts this world. The stories of our ancestors are retold. Their words bring hope like light in the darkness; absence gives way to comforting presence. Guardians are watching over us. No one is driven out. All are called into this tribe. All belong
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