Matthew starts with a genealogy. "Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers . . . " Mostly it's a string of fathers, though there are a few women scattered among them: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth. Of course, at the very end of the lineage, there's Mary. Joseph (with all those fathers) was the husband of the Virgin Mary. So Joseph, famously, was not the father of Jesus by genealogy.
When I think about Joseph, I think of the verse from here at the beginning of Matthew, "Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly." I find this very interesting. The "right" thing for him to have done, that is, the lawful thing, would have been to expose her and bring charges and have her stoned. The "righteous" thing, though, was to protect her from public disgrace.
Why, then include all those fathers? Righteousness is a theme of the Gospel of Matthew: what does the law say, vs. what is actual righteousness? ("You've heard it said, 'You shall not murder,' but I say to you, if you are angry then you are liable to judgement."). Starting with Abraham, who lived before the law was given, and whose faith was reckoned as righteousness, this genealogy is more about relationship through righteousness than through blood or genetics. I think Joseph was the father of Jesus through righteousness.
What does Advent have to do with this genealogy of righteousness in Matthew? Advent, contrary to what the retailers would have you believe, is not about Christmas; it's not about the baby Jesus in a manger. Advent is anticipation of the coming of the Lord. Advent is about preparing yourself. Part of the human condition is that we're stuck only ever experiencing the present. We remember the past and we anticipate the future, but we experience the present. The genealogy represents a long memory of people trying to live a righteous life. The story of Joseph's righteousness shows a person in his own present crisis trying to live a righteous life. When John the Baptist comes, he calls us to turn to righteous living in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. People in that time had no idea what the coming of the Messiah would look like. How do you prepare for something when you don't really know what it's going to be like?
Advent is a time for introspection and preparation for the Messiah who came. Jesus came and taught and lived out a life of perfect righteousness. During Advent we try to prepare for the coming celebration of the birth of the baby. We don't stop there, though. We also think about the life that baby will lead and the redemption that person will accomplish when grown. If I could ask you to do one thing in December 2022 in preparation for the Messiah that came, it would be to read the Gospel of Matthew. Read what Matthew says about righteousness. You could read one chapter a day and almost finish before Christmas, or you could read more per day, read it all the way through, and then then start over again. Read it all through Advent.
Advent is a time for introspection and preparation for the Lord who comes now. Jesus also comes to us in our lives now. We cannot know what to expect when Jesus comes to us. During Advent we try to prepare for the coming of the Lord into our lives in the present. We prepare by remembering the stories of our families and communities, and we prepare by honestly looking onto our hearts now. If I could ask you to do one thing in December of 2022 in preparation for the Lord that comes into our lives now, it would be to think about the image of God in each person you meet. Look in your own heart and check if there is any contempt for that person. Think about the fact that we are all made in God's image, and that Christ is the image of the invisible God. Look for that image in the face and personality and behaviors of the other. Think about Joseph trying to figure out how to do the righteous thing, and figure out for yourself what is the righteous thing for you to do as you meet each person.
Advent is a time for introspection and preparation for the Christ who will come again. We have just finished one liturgical year, ending a year of Luke, and Advent starts the new one. This is a fascinating juxtaposition. On the last Sunday of the year, we celebrated the Reign of Christ and emphasize the end of time when Jesus will come again (the so-called "second coming"). Now we're in Advent, and time seems suddenly rolled back to before the birth of the Christ child. We are preparing for that coming, but fresh in our memories is a future coming. On the first Sunday of Advent in Matthew, we read that it is going to come as a surprise. "You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." Be vigilant and stay ready. What does staying ready mean? If I could ask you to do one thing in December of 2022 in preparation for the Christ that will come again, it is to pray. Prayer is, among other things, a special state of mind where you are in the presence of God, communicating and communing with God. In prayer, we address God in the second person. "You are wonderful. . ., Thank you . . ., I ask you . . ." We try to answer the call of John the Baptist to be righteous in anticipation of the coming of the Christ. What is the way to be righteous in preparation for the second coming? Righteousness is staying in right relationship with God. One part of staying in right relationship with God is through prayer. Pray every day. Pray every time you think about it. Do as Paul tells us: pray without ceasing.
In Advent, we prepare. We prepare by learning, listening to what is righteous in the Word of God. We prepare by looking at ourselves honestly and looking at Jesus as our example. We prepare by looking for Christ revealed in our neighbors. We prepare by staying in relationship with God through prayer.