In recent years the number of people who want to find out more about their origins – who their ancestors were, where they came from, what they did, – has increased greatly. Television programmes such as, “Who Do You Think You Are?” have opened unexpected avenues of enquiry, confronted the searchers with often remarkable and sometimes dismaying facts on their hitherto unnamed forebears. Viewers and others feel encouraged to delve into their own antecedents. They find help in the increased number of genealogy sites on the internet as well as the valuable resources located in many archive centres. It seems we all want to be able to answer the question, ‘To whom do you belong?’
The long genealogy of Jesus which is proclaimed every year on December 17th, the beginning of the pre-Christmas octave, is found in the opening chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” There follows a long list, punctuated by ‘the father of, ‘the father of’. The men named are mostly unknown or unfamiliar. Those we do recognize, Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon for example, are listed as dispassionately as the others. We may be able to unpack the stories of these patriarchs and kings, but others named are not heard of again, men whose life stories even the most persistent genealogist is unlikely to recover.
These are the ancestors of Jesus, some mighty and powerful, some holy and full of faith, but there are also crooks, schemers, adulterers. Only five women are mentioned in that long list but each one is significant in unexpected and, it must be said, scandalous, ways. With the final one, Mary, (unmarried and pregnant) the rhythm changes. Joseph, her husband, is not named ‘the father of’ Jesus. It is ‘of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.’
Jesus is the Son of God, but this list of Matthew tells us that he also belongs to us. He is one with us in his humanity. As Pope Francis reminded the bishops in Rio de Janerio, he is “the ‘God who is near’ his people, a nearness which culminates in the incarnation.” The Lord is not distant, uninvolved in our often sinful, heedless lives; he is closer to us than our own heartbeat. We celebrate this closeness at Christmas when He, the Word of God, comes to us in what the Pope calls, “a revolution of tenderness”, a small, helpless baby.
Who do you think you are? Listen to the Child this Christmas and you will find that no matter how wretched your circumstances, how sinful you are, how far you feel from the grace of God, how unworthy, you are in truth the beloved, much sought-after child of God. You are part of His family. You belong.