December 17, 2015
by Jeanne Schuler
Creighton University's Philosophy Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent
Lectionary: 193

Genesis 49:2, 8-10
Psalms 72:1-2, 3-4ab, 7-8, 17
Matthew 1:1-17

Today's Advent Prayer

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A Different Kind of King

“The king…shall defend the afflicted among the people, save the children of the poor.” (Psalm 72: 4)
Where are you from?  This question often arises in talk among strangers.  Hometown, region, college, job, or even sports team anchor us in the world.  “I grew up in the Sand Hills, where babies arrive as Husker fans.” [The "Huskers" is the name of the a local American college football team here.] Famous athletes are etched in our minds, while the names of our grandparents may slip away.

In Jesus’s day, identity took another form.  Matthew’s gospel begins by reciting over 40 ancestors, stretching back through exile to Abraham.  Some, like David, are illustrious.  Five women are mentioned, including Ruth and Mary.  This genealogy is not based on blood.  It marks the end of a journey.  We have been coming to this day for a long time.  Gentiles are included, as Jesus belongs to all people, not one tribe.  The genealogy establishes him as descending from rulers.  Matthew figures that credentials are needed since a child born to simple folks in flight does not sound like a king.

Jacob had to choose which of his sons would lead.  Rulers commonly are measured by military traits.  Of his twelve sons, Judah stood out as the lion that could inspire fear.  He was not esteemed for virtue.  After all, Judah joined in the plot to get rid of their brother Joseph.  But fierce and strong, Judah represents a familiar sort of leader.

The psalm depicts a peaceful kingdom.  The ruler here is not driven by greed or corruption.  He does not incite hatred or divisions.  This king embodies justice and compassion.  His people live in harmony with nature and one another.  Concern for the poor unites them.  We would scrounge through history to find this king.  He signifies the hope and dream of many.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem.  Who imagined that the promised one would enter the world illegitimate, homeless, a refugee, and, ultimately, an executed criminal?  Who dreamt that salvation would arise from the lowest ranks?  To encounter our God we must travel to the margins and stay awhile.

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