For veteran preachers of the advent season, each Christmas brings an even greater challenge to open the eyes of our people to the wonder that should never cease to make us wonder.
Advent season has begun. Pastors all around the world are desperately looking for texts and angles on the theme that will enable them to bring fresh light on the light of the ancient story that I known so well, yet which can so easily lose its lustre.
The essence of the message is majestic and beyond words. The eternal Son assumed a true human nature – like ours in every respect, apart from sin – and he made his home among us. The aspects and ramifications of what this entailed are myriad. It was the dawning of a new day: the blazing of the light that first shone at the dawn of creation, banishing darkness and chaos. Only this time, it was the day of salvation. It marked the fulfilment of promise, the greatest promise ever given: that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head.
For veteran preachers of the advent season, each Christmas brings an even greater challenge to open the eyes of our people to the wonder that should never cease to make us wonder. Sometimes this will mean digging a little bit deeper into the well-known texts and stories that anticipate, record or explain the great event. But it may also mean that we reach for what may look like throwaway remarks in the Bible record that are actually loaded statements, deserving a closer look.
One such detail is found in the genealogy recorded in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 3.23-38). As with his fellow-evangelist, Matthew, he recognises the importance of tracing the Redeemer’s family line. In keeping not only with Jewish tradition, but also Roman practice, having a record of birth and ancestry was vital for a person’s legitimacy and entitlements being recognised. (Luke has just told his readers about the census decreed by Caesar Augustus, requiring everyone in the Roman Empire to be formally registered.) However, the two Gospel genealogies are different in many respects.
Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry from the past down to the present; while Luke traces it from Jesus’ birth back to where it began. Matthew’s genealogy is deliberately stylised and presented in three groups with 14 names in each; Luke’s is a continuous flow. Matthew begins his Gospel with this record; Luke introduces it in connection with Jesus’ baptism by John as the prelude the commencement of his earthly ministry.