A New Beginning: Reading through Matthew 1-3

So, what’s your story?  Think about your parents and grandparents.  Where did they come from?  What did they do for a living? How far back do you know about? The Odens, as far as I can tell, came to America in the 1660s, and slowly made their way west over the decades, my great-grandfather coming in the 1920s to California from Texas, riding the rails, working on building piers and farming. It’s a rough history of my family, as far as I can tell, but that feeds into where I am, who I am, so it’s really interesting for me to know.

We all have stories in our pasts, and in our past’s past.  It’s the journey that gets us to where we’re at.

I’m fascinated with history, and by that I’m not talking about kings, queens, wars, or such.  I’m very curious how people came to be who they are and where they’re at.  For instance, if you’re a Christian, you have a direct connection to Jesus in your story.  Jesus told his followers, who told other people, who told other people, and at some point someone told you.  So, your story is important for that reason, and for a lot of other reasons.  It helps us to know who we are, what we’re dealing with.

Jesus has a story too.  It starts a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Oh wait, that’s a different story, a fictional story. The story of Jesus involves the cosmos (remember Genesis 1?) but it also involves real men and real women who lived mostly very ordinary, difficult lives, with the occasional story of some who lived very extraordinary, difficult lives.

The writers of the New Testament assume we know the stories and teachings of the Old Testament. In our reading plan, we’re reading both the Old Testament and the New Testament together, so many of you may not know what happened in “last week’s episode”

Fortunately, Matthew starts off by giving us a quick recap. That’s what the list of names is, a genealogy (I never can spell this word right without looking it up), that gives us the family tree of Jesus.

This does two things, one it links the Old and New Testament together. Two testaments, one story.  Second, it places Jesus into a historical context.  Jesus isn’t a myth, a spiritual story in some vague make-believe world.

He’s a real man, who has a family background, and that family background is full of stories, movement, conflict, celebrations. The God we learn about in Genesis 1-19, joins in the story in a real place, at a real time, in a real way. And get this, as a real baby.  Matthew 1-3 is dramatic stuff!  It’s not a myth of some generalized work of God, or cyclical pattern of life and death. In Christianity, history is the canvas of God’s work, and as crazy as it is, God has chosen to work in the midst of time to bring us to an experience of eternity.

Note that in chapter 1 we get a whole history lesson, and where does it start?  With the man we were talking about at the end of our Old Testament reading this week.  Who else shows up that I mentioned in the earlier discussion?  It’s the Spirit!

The first work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible isn’t in the book of Acts, it’s in the book of Genesis, and the first mention of the Spirit in the New Testament is in the first chapter of Matthew. What is the Spirit doing in these passages?

In these chapters, we are introduced to Jesus, and also see the work of the Spirit, and the continuing story of God.  Note how this adds a little complication to Christian theology.  Who is Jesus?  How does the Spirit relate to Jesus? How does Jesus relate to God?  How many is that? God is revealing, and in this revealing we discover issues that may not make sense at first. Don’t panic. You’re not alone and this is why it’s good to learn with others, and to learn from those who have walked this road over the centuries.

This passage is an introduction to the New Testament too. This begins a new work of God, who continues to love the world. Even after all that time (at least 28 generations since Abraham), God never gave up on people. And some of the people have really been jerks!  But God made a promise, and that promise never expired, and in the New Testament we see this promise taking on a new form, human form.  I wonder what will happen next.

There’s a lot more to say, like talking about Mary and Joseph, or the Magi (how many of them were there?), and a scene of shocking violence.  It wasn’t lullabies and sunflowers when Jesus was born, it was trauma, and transition, and interpersonal conflict.  And mixed in all of this is salvation? The hope for the world.

None of this was a surprise, if you knew your Bible.

Matthew quotes the prophets all throughout (something to look forward to as we read this year), and then we encounter John the Baptist, maybe the last of the Old Testament prophets, proclaiming the time of salvation is at hand.

What stands out to you? What questions do you have? There’s a lot going on, so I know you have questions, so feel free to ask. Any image or theme come to mind?  How would you respond to someone like John?  Share your thoughts so we can learn together.

Previous for this week: