17 December – ‘Born of David’s line’

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
( Matthew 1.1-17)

I registered with a genealogy website. The thing is that I had been watching those programmes where people traced their family – such as on ‘Who do you think you are?’ I wanted to know who I was, where I’d come from, what stock I was from. I knew a bit of course. I had listened to both of my grandmothers tell their own tales of family and houses, of distant memories and of people who had gone before them. I was under no illusion. I knew that I wasn’t blue bloodied or from wealthy landowners, I knew that I would be from more simple working folk. So it was really interesting when the information started to gather, when the clues came up and the digitalised records started to link up and there was something of a family tree developing.

My paternal grandmother had always told me that the ‘Nunn’s’ were originally cabinet makers from Ipswich and, lo and behold, I found my way back to the eighteenth century and Alfred Nunn and ‘Nunn’s Yard’ where the workshop was and a maid and an apprentice were housed. My maternal grandmother had told me about a thatched cottage in a village called Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershare and how in the past a ‘Rainbow’ married a ‘Fairy’. And there it all was – a farm worker’s cottage and a Mr Rainbow marrying a Miss Fairy.

My maternal great-great-grandparents

My maternal great-great-grandparents

Like pieces of a jigsaw it was coming together and making a bigger picture, and the roots, or is it the branches, were being put in place, that complicated web which describes our lineage, who we are.

You will find in many great churches or Cathedrals a Jesse Tree window. Jesse, the father of King David lies at the base of the window and out of his side spouts a tree. On that tree, like fruit, are the characters that St Matthew puts in his genaology of Jesus. The Jesse Tree is a visual representation of the gospel for today. The deacon or the priest reading it at the Eucharist will have to make their way with care through all those names. It’s a reading that we have only on this day, not a popular reading like the Beatitudes may be. But it is given to us to root Jesus in history – in the history of his people and to show the stock from which he comes.

The Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree

In the St John’s Gospel Jesus speaks of himself as the vine. A couple of years ago I enjoyed a wonderful trip round the Champagne region of France and was fascinated as a viticultuarist described the process of grafting onto old stock, stock that was resistant to disease, stock that would produce good shoots and great fruit, a bumper harvest. St Paul in his Letter to the Romans uses similar imagery, the stock and the graft. But in this gospel reading for today Jesus is described as springing from the one stock, the one root, that can trace its origin in Abraham, the Father of the nation, the father of all nations.

St Luke also gives us a genealogy at the beginning of his gospel – not right at the begining as Matthew does, who wants to make his point immediately – but later on after the birth narrative. But what Luke does is to trace Jesus back to Adam, not Abraham. Luke in his inclusive, global, gentile-embracing way wants to show that Jesus is from the root of ‘everyman’ and not simply the root of the Jewish people. Matthew, however, writing for a non-gentile audience, is happy to begin his route from root to fruit with the greatest patriarch.

As we take the Bethlehem road and become pilgrims together, Bethlehem bound, as we begin these final days to Christmas, we are asked to consider who we are and where our story, our life journey begins. One answer will be as far back as records will take us but your real story may begin elsewhere. Who are you?

Creator God,
you made me,
you love me,
you know me.
May I know you
and myself
in your Son Jesus.

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