“Coming Home for Christmas ~ Matthew’s House” (2 of 4)
Jer. 33:14-16 & Mt. 1:1-7, 15,16 ~ November 28, 2021 ~ Northwood United ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Did you feel like you missed Christmas last year? I know it felt very weird without the ability to physically gather and worship together as a church family. Zoom…YouTube…and livestreaming, try as we might, we are people who want to come together, to gather in community, and (at Christmas time) to behold the birth of God’s child. And for families (both biological families and spiritual families) we were not able to gather, and it made for a very different Christmas last year.
As we come towards the end of this second year of living through the pandemic, you can almost sense the eager anticipation of Christmas in the hearts of many! We have become like wide-eyed children with the sparkle and magic of the season in our eyes. We missed gathering, worshipping, celebrating that He is come. And if that is the case for you: that you are eagerly anticipating the party, the celebration, the joyous birth, then you will be ready to come home to Matthew’s house for Christmas!
As we discover, Matthew’s house is a complete contrast from Mark’s. While Mark’s house is more akin to visiting Ebenezer Scrooge’s home in the movie “A Christmas Carol” ~ a bleak setting where Christmas (eventually) arrives, Matthew’s house is more like visiting the glittering, bright Griswold home in the movie “Christmas Vacation”. Matthew’s house is decorated with lights…so many lights…almost as bright as the one that lit up the sky for the Wise Men to follow. While Mark’s Christmas is seemingly absent ~ opting to introduce Jesus with a baptismal blessing and wilderness journey, when you come to Matthew’s house for Christmas, you will see all the characters…ready and outfitted for a Christmas nativity play! When you come to Matthew’s house, you will find angels proclaiming the good news. When you come to Matthew’s house, you will find shepherds called from the fields to the manger. When you come to Matthew’s house, you will find the Holy family where a humble infant saviour ~ little baby Jesus ~ will arrive in this joyful night. In short, Matthew’s Christmas is the polar opposite of Mark’s. It is filled with all the characters, all the light, all the festivities and all the trimmings. It is the Christmas party of eternity’s longing!
The first feature upon entry into Matthew’s house that you will see, proudly displayed, is the Christmas tree. How many of us rejoice in putting up the tree? Placing the tree is the highlight of the family’s decoration party! Who has the honour of unpacking the tree this year? Or of selecting the tree at the lot? Who will lay out the tree skirt? Unfold the branches? And decide exactly how it will be placed? How the lights will be hung? The decorations carefully placed. As the decoration party merrily continues, we reminisce…’Do you remember: when we purchased that Christmas decoration while on holiday in Mexico? Do you remember when our child / our grandchild made that that macaroni decoration?’ The Christmas tree is the centre of the celebration at Matthew’s house. It is the first thing you see when you come to Matthew’s. Except…as you noticed, Matthew’s tree is not an evergreen…Matthew’s Christmas tree is a family tree…and placing it as the introduction of Jesus, Matthew’s family tree is the prized centre of this Christmas celebration.
Why…Matthew’s family tree is that moment that God fully breaks into history! Matthew’s family tree tells the amazing story of the generations unfolding, all the way back from Father Abraham ~ our shared father between the faith traditions of Islam, of Judaism, and of Christianity. All in all, 42 generations from Abraham…through Isaac…through David…all the way to the Holy Family. I appreciated Betty’s reading of this passage because it might, at the beginning, seem to be a tedious one to read and hear. I’m sure you didn’t nod off, however, it doesn’t come with the power of the birth story with angels and trumpets. But it has quite the ending! It begins: “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah…” and so on. Such were the times in Jesus’ days that one’s lineage was traced paternally. Yet, something very important happens at the end of the reading. Did you hear what occurs when we get to the Holy Family? When we get to Joseph, the lineage flow is totally disrupted. Instead of father to father, it reads like this: “and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”
Joseph is named “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.” Something very different is happening! And the arrival of Jesus is where God places the exclamation mark for our Christian faith. History is disrupted…the ways of the world will be challenged. Jesus’ birth will be holy; his movement will shift the world. His coming will be unlike any other! The hopes and fears of all the years will come in Christ that night as he breaks into history and teaches us of God’s amazing grace come for all. Sometimes, we forget through the year that the word ‘Christ, was not Jesus’ surname. Christ, which also means ‘Messiah’, is who they saw Jesus to be. Through the 42 generations, through the waiting for a Messiah….for a liberator…finally He had arrived!
It is important to know, that Matthew’s Christmas tree was not initially embraced. In fact, people didn’t much like how Jesus arrived at all! Matthew will proceed through his gospel to teach, a predominantly Jewish community, how Jesus’ arrival was to bring light to ALL the people…NOT just the Jewish audience. It would have been an understandable challenge. Finally, after the waiting…and the praying…and the waiting…finally the Messiah-Christ arrives to liberate the oppressed from their long history of slavery. In the family tree there was a long memory of enslavement and finally God delivers. Surely, they must have thought ‘now it is OUR TIME to rule!’ ‘Now God is on OUR SIDE!’ Finally, God has made good on what the prophets of old were saying. And Matthew’s challenge in his gospel was to help this Jewish community hear how Jesus had come for ALL the people…the Jews ~ YES! And also the others…the Gentiles ~ YES!.
This challenge has been one of the founding cornerstones of our United Church, as we seek NOT to proclaim an exclusive hold on God’s presence, but rather to view ourselves as an invitational community. We are a community where Jesus proclaims us ~ one and all ~ as Children of Light. Our family tree was filled with lots of debate and division…but it slowly grew over time as we considered the kind of Jesus being birthed into the world: a Messiah who is come for ALL the people. It began with our formation, almost 100 years ago, as we lived into the dream of ‘united’ body of denominations in Canada, not silos, a united church who could work cooperatively on a mission of social justice. Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists ~ what might happen if we were to unite as family? How might we better serve the country and the world as a ‘United’ church? Over the coming century, we would broaden our family tree of leadership and ministry. Starting in 1936, women (imagine that?) would be lifted up as ordained ministers. We would continue to broaden our inclusion of leadership to all sexualities in 1988. Our church would sit in interfaith communities considering how each of our respective light shines…and how it intersects with one another. We would work ecumenically considering how we might partner with other Christian denominations in serving the larger world. And most recently, a growing awareness of we might play a role in climate change has drawn theologians to sit at a multidisciplinary table.
And isn’t it wonderful that we have this family tree? Waking us up to this mind-bending reality of God breaking into history…drawing us together in a way like never before?
I have a friend who serves a parish just a few blocks away from Rockefeller Centre in New York city. As you likely have seen, they erect a massive Christmas Tree every December ~ 80 or 90 feet tall! To be sure, it is a tourist destination as young and old come to behold one of the largest trees around. And as you can imagine, there is a lot of pride with this display. The tree must be ‘perfect’ in order to be displayed in such a prestigious location. My friend tells me that Eric Pauze, the head gardener at Rockefeller Centre, begins the search for the perfect specimen almost a year ahead of time. He travels through various parts of the US searching for a perfect specimen that can “have no bad sides”. Eventually the prize tree is located and delivered in mid-November for the upcoming season.
The thing with Matthew’s Christmas tree is that it is exactly the opposite. Matthew doesn’t attempt to hide the “bad sides” of his tree. Matthew displays them, one and all, as evidence of God’s arrival for all. The reason Matthew’s tree is so beautiful is that it is filled with all the characters of real life. Some of the members of the family tree are kings, others slaves, some who walked in the wilderness, some who went ahead as spies, some made some immoral decisions…but ALL of them were part of the one family tree where God’s arrival as the Messiah-Christ arrived!
May we make room in Matthew’s house for everyone to join the party of life! Open the door when it is knocked! Welcome the guests…pour them some egg nog…for Christ is born for all!