Being part of Christmas
Whilst living in Coatbridge, during the early years of our marriage, I visited an older lady who lived in the high-rise flats in Whifflet. She worshipped with us in Bargeddie Church and I was making a pastoral visit as her elder. My arrival coincided with the arrival of another visitor, a friend of hers who was also a local, and we soon began chatting. Part of our conversation went something like this. She began:
‘So you’re from Bargeddie?’
‘Near Bargeddie - I’m from Swinton, which is in Glasgow.’
‘I have relatives in Bargeddie.’
‘Really? Who are your related to? I might know them.’
‘Herbert Thomson is my cousin.’
‘That’s my father….. Why don’t I know you…..?’….
There then followed a bizarre attempt to understand my own family tree. It was amazing to meet a total stranger, only to discover that we were related.
I suppose most of us (assuming there aren’t too many skeletons lurking) are moderately interested in our family tree and family history. Indeed, some people pursue such interest into the realms of obsession. Our own family history we find interesting, but most other people’s family trees are much less engaging.
With that in mind, we may wonder why Matthew begins his Gospel with a seemingly tedious family tree - a monotonous list of names. We turn to the beginning of his Gospel to read the exciting events of the first Christmas, and we discover a long list of unpronounceable names, with which it is rather hard to be engaged. Why would you begin the greatest story ever told with a list of names? It begins:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers……………..
In fact, there is a great deal of significance in this genealogy, so much so that we spent the first Sunday morning in advent studying it. However, let me point something out to you that I suspect is easily missed. Matthew begins with Abraham. By doing so, he was drawing attention to the significance of Abraham as the one to whom staggering promises were made. We read about those promises in the Old Testament book of Genesis:
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 12:2-3
What Matthew is telling us at the very beginning is that if you want to make sense of his Gospel then you need to go back to Abraham. If you want to make sense of the coming of Jesus Christ then you need to look back to Abraham. By doing so, you will realise that the key promise God makes to Abraham is that the nations of the world will be blessed. So Matthew begins his account of the story of Jesus by reminding us of that promise to Abraham, that, through a descendant of Abraham, all the nations would know blessing. The point is that it is in Jesus Christ that such blessing will be fulfilled.
If we then turn from the beginning of Matthew to the very end of Matthew, we read the words which are better known as the Great Commission:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
The Gospel of Matthew, that begins with the promise of God to bless the nations, ends with the apostles being commanded to go to all the nations with the Good news of the gospel. The promise of blessing will be fulfilled through the coming of Christ, through the work and mission of the apostles and through our Lord’s promise to be with the church to the very end of the age.
That very mission to the nations has continued down through the centuries as Christians have shared the Good News of Jesus. It continues in Dalry today. Let’s make sure we continue to reach out to share that Good news. Elsewhere in this newsletter are details of our Christmas services. Who might you invite along? Elsewhere in the newsletter we make mention of the little booklets we are giving away as free gifts. Who could you give one to? Elsewhere in the newsletter mention is made of the ‘Life Explored’ course due to begin at the end of January. Who could you bring along?
This Christmas let’s make sure we celebrate Christmas by being an integral part of its glorious fulfilment.