God Is With Us
Everyone's family history has hidden secrets. Most families celebrate their ancestry, but nearly all families have some part of their past that is not talked about. We tell the inspirational stories from our genealogy, but the uncomfortable stories are treated with silence due to our fear that acknowledging them will lead to history repeating itself.
Must we repeat the mistakes of our ancestors? From a medical standpoint, having a family history of a particular disorder is one of the greatest risk factors in developing that disorder ourselves. This is true of mental health and personality disorders as much as it is of physical diseases. We know, for example, that people who were abused as children are more likely to become abusive parents as adults.
In today's Gospel reading, we see the genealogy of Jesus Christ. We see in this genealogy many people who are considered some of the great examples of virtue in the Old Testament. Abraham's obedient faith; David's strong leadership and even stronger repentance; Hezekiah's zeal for the true faith, which lead him to tear down the pagan altars that has been built in Jerusalem. These are the kinds of stories that we often hear repeated.
But Jesus' ancestry is also full of people who failed to live virtuous lives. Jesus' family history is full of people whose actions put them on the wrong side of God's favor. David's son Solomon exorbitantly taxed the people of Israel, and took 700 foreign wives who turned him away from the one true God. Solomon's son Rehoboam stole the gold that had been offered to God in the temple, and gave it to the king of Egypt for his own protection. Ahaz had altars to pagan gods set up all over Jerusalem; when his son Hezekiah tore them down, his own son Mannasseh set them back up. Rahab, the mother of Boaz, was a prostitute. Judah sold his brother Joseph into slavery, and then raised two equally wicked sons.
Many of the lives of Jesus' ancestors can be summed up by Scripture's rebuke toward Abijah, son of Rehoboam: "He walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God," (1 Kings 15:2).
All of the unrighteousness in the world did not stop Jesus Christ from coming to be with his people. All of the failings in Jesus' family history culminated in the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel," (Is. 7:14) which came to pass in the birth of Jesus Christ, who is Emmanuel— "God with us," (Matt. 1:23).
Jesus did not repeat the sins of his ancestors; neither are we fated to repeat the sins of those who came before us. Just as Jesus Christ was please to be born into his creation through this ancestry of sins and transgressions, so too, whatever failings might exist in our past or in our present, Jesus Christ must be born in us. The decision to break with the past and live a new life in Christ is ours alone to make, and nothing in our past can keep us from making it. Then, when Jesus Christ is born in our heart, we can sing with conviction the hymn of Christ's Nativity: "Christ is born; glorify Him!"