An Advent Study II


WEEK 2: Who are your people?

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

-Matthew 1

I’m very skeptical of DNA ancestry testing, not just because of the potential privacy issues the nature of which we don’t have the capacity to even begin to contemplate, but mostly because I think claims to offer eternal life are always overstated. Is a profit-driven, libertarian-minded corporation really where we think a messiah will emerge?

I was especially struck recently by a New York Times Magazine  piece that followed 62 year old Sigrid Johnson as she discovered who she was as it were as defined by a couple of these commercial DNA tests

Johnson has light caramel skin. She grew up in African American communities. She graduated from an historically black university. She identifies, presents, and engages with the world as an African American woman.

According to her DNA test results though, she’s not actually African. . . she’s 45.306 percent Hispanic, 32.321 percent Middle Eastern, 13.714 percent European and 8.659 percent “other,” which included a mere 2.978 percent African. Raised as an only child, she also learned she had a slew of siblings.

Despite the evidence and experience of her life, the results of Johnson’s DNA ancestry tests show she is not African American, nor she is in fact an only child.

“You turn 65, take a DNA test and find out your whole life is a lot different than you ever thought it was.”

The stories we tell ourselves about where we come from and who we are, are powerful tools for creating meaning and purpose in our lives. They tell us who our people are and aren’t. They can tell us what we’re for and what we’re against, or help define where we’re going and why.

I think the writer of the gospel of Matthew had this in mind when they decided to open their telling of the story of Jesus with an extensive genealogy.

We mostly skip over the details of these dense verses in our nativity narratives, short-handing their perceived function: Jesus descends from the House of David, which fulfills the messianic prophecy.

But just like Sigrid Johnson, what happens if we look at the details of where Jesus came from and not just the traditional story we’ve told ourselves about it? Are there new connections to make? New kinds of stories to tell?

I think so.

Embedded in this long list of fathers and sons are the names of five women: among them a prostitute, a widow, King David’s “other woman” identified by the name of her husband who David had killed, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The gospel writer tells us Mary has a husband, but not that Jesus is born of him.

In this telling, Jesus descends not from a neat and tidy line of dignified prophets, judges and kings but “his people” include prostitutes, adulterers, and adolescent girls giving birth out of wedlock.

I can understand how and why the dignified storyline became the popular one.

But I think it’s more important to always remember Truth is bigger than story.


Who are your people? Are some of your roots more prominent than others? Why? What would happen if you made an effort to dignify the lesser known stories of where you come from?

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