The story of Jesus and the meaning of Christmas can only really be understood by looking at where Jesus came from, his family tree, and by looking at how his story has continued in history.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ story includes a long family tree, a genealogy, that shows his origins. Too often we tend to ignore these genealogies with their long list of difficult-to-pronounce names, most of which mean little to us. But as the renowned biblical scholar, Raymond Brown, emphasizes again and again, we cannot really understand the story of Jesus without understanding why his family tree, this long list of names, is judged to be important.

Among other things, these genealogies trace out Jesus’ origins in a way that tells us that his real story will not be grasped by anyone who wants to believe that Jesus’ human origins were totally immaculate and pure, containing no sin or weakness. Jesus wasn’t born of all saintly ancestors.

Rather, as the genealogies show, his family tree contains as many sinners as saints. Among his ancestors were liars, adulterers, murderers, power-grabbing men, scheming women, wicked kings, corrupt church officials, and sinners of every sort. The same holds true for the religious institutions that figured in his birth. The religious history of Judaism out of which Jesus was born was too a mélange grace and sin, of religious institutions serving both God and their own human interests.

And what’s the lesson in all this?  Both the persons and the institutions that gave birth to Jesus were mixture of grace and sin, a mixture that mediated God’s favor and also rationalized it for its own benefit. But, out of that mélange, Jesus was born.

Recognizing and accepting this should not lead us to a cynicism where we begin to doubt the truth of Jesus or the legitimacy of the church because of the lies, sin, infidelity, and not-infrequent stupidity of those human persons and religious institutions who originally made up Jesus’ family-tree and who have constituted his family since.

Like a hidden seed, God’s grace works, even through people like us and churches like ours, revealing divinity despite most everything.

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