A meditation by Michael Pahl on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2019, called “Worth the Wait.”
Here is a written excerpt:
We tend to skip over the opening verses of Matthew’s Gospel when we read it. That’s the extended genealogy of Jesus through Joseph’s family line. Matthew lists Jesus’ descendants from the patriarch Abraham to ancient Israel’s king David, and from David to another exile in Babylon, and from this exile to Jesus the Messiah.
We tend to skip over this genealogy, and that’s too bad, for a few reasons. One reason is the women named in Jesus’ family tree, and the significance they had both in Israel’s history and in Jesus’ heritage. Another reason, though, is that when you do read the genealogy, naming fourteen generations three times over, you can better appreciate Israel’s long wait for its Messiah.
Long, long ago, God had made promises to Abraham: promises of blessing for Abraham’s descendants, promises of blessing for all the nations through Abraham’s descendants. And Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, also called Israel, and Israel the father of Judah, and Judah the father of Perez by Tamar, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.
Then, long after that, but still long ago, God had made promises to David: promises of a son of David who would reign as king forever, bringing about the fullness of God’s kingdom of justice and peace on earth. And David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.
Then, long after that, but still a long time ago, God had made promises to the exiled people in Babylon: promises that God would come to them and reign among them through David’s son, finally bringing about that promised justice and peace and flourishing life, not just for Israel but even for the nations. And Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.
If we have a hard time imagining the wait Ahaz and Judah were called to—a patient trust for a few years at most, while armies lay siege to Jerusalem’s gates—how much harder it is to imagine the wait Matthew portrays for Israel—patiently trusting for generation after generation, dozens of generations, through slavery and liberation, covenant and wilderness and promised land, kingdom united then divided then toppled, one exile and then another, returning and rebuilding, now stifling under yet another oppressive empire.
How long, O Lord? What are you waiting for?
After fifty-plus generations of unfulfilled promise, here’s the choice before Israel. Here’s their fork in the road. They can trust that God has not abandoned them, that God loves them with a deep and abiding love, that God is yet with them. They can even now prepare the way for the Lord. Or they can ignore this promise of God’s loving presence, and try to forge their own way.
Mary and Joseph, at least—and Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Anna and Simeon and other faithful Israelites—continued to trust that God was still with them, still on their side.
And so the virgin Mary conceived and bore a son, and he was called “Immanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” This was how the birth of Jesus, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, came to pass.