Go on, admit it. We never read all the names, do we? Tell me it’s not just me and Sara? I generally stop at the second unfamiliar one – so Aram would be my normal limit. But Matthew gives 28 generations – and some of those names are known to me from different places, not just here.
Remember Boaz and Ruth? The story of how they met is in the Book of Ruth – short, worth a read. Then of course, there’s Jesse, with all those sons – including (later King) David. His son Solomon the wise gets a mention, although his Mum’s name (Beersheba) is omitted, and she is identified as wife of Uriah. One of King David’s less proud moments was the planning of the death of Uriah, just so he could marry her. It’s one of those bits of the Bible that “nice” Christians tut over. It may be uncomfortable to reflect that God took the misdeed and turned it into part of the Salvation story; or it may be comforting for all of us sinners.
But then we disappear back into a list of names. Just names. No meaning leaps off the page. And yet…. I happen to know the names of my Nana’s brothers and sisters, in birth order. I knew most of the people behind the names, and Nana told me some of their stories, even of the ones I never met. I could list them for you, but it wouldn’t mean a lot. How strange it must seem to have your name in the Bible, in the most amazing story of human encounter with God, only to have it skipped over?
All this genealogy has a link to the Advent Wreath seen in many churches during Advent. This picture shows one kind – in ‘my’ churches all four candles round the edge are red. But each Sunday in Advent one more candle is let – a purple the first Sunday as we remember the Patriarchs; a purple on the second Sunday as we remember the Prophets; pink on the third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing) as we remember John the Baptist, and purple on the fourth Sunday as we remember Mary, mother of Jesus. The white candle in the middle is lit on Christmas Day.
Perhaps it’s time to reread those lists of the Patriarchs, to read them properly, to give thinks for the part each person played in the story of Salvation.
Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, God of our ancestors:
to you be praise and glory for ever.
You called the patriarchs to live by the light of faith
and to journey in the hope of your promised fulfilment.
May we be obedient to your call
and be ready and watchful to receive your Christ,
a lamp to our feet and a light to our path;
for you are our light and our salvation.
Blessed be God for ever.