Tell me this isn’t one of the most boring passages in the Bible:
“…and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; And Zorobabel begat Abiud…” (Matthew 1:12b-13a, KJV).
When people read the book of Matthew, most skip or skim verses 1-18, or “the begats.” They seem boring. In reality, Matthew’s Begats set the stage for everything that’s going to happen next. Many of these names are connected to other stories. If you read those stories, they tell you what kind of story to expect from Matthew: A story with impossible pregnancies, tricksters, and people who elbowed their way into the Kingdom of God; a story with twists and turns and miracles and angels.
The begats tell you about the family history of the main character’s parents. Some of his ancestors were outsiders, some were amazing people of God, and some were scoundrels. Some were all three.
Jesus does not appear on a blank stage. He appears in a world with expectations and a history.
These stories and characters set the stage for the coming of the Son of God.
In a similar way, our family stories set the stage for all of us.
The example of a faithful parent may give us the “oomph” we need to get up for church Sunday mornings or engage in other spiritual disciplines like prayer or Bible reading. An abusive parent may frame our resolution to treat our own children better. A dispute between our parents over the behavior of a grandparent may be the reason we never see our cousins “from that side of the family.”
There’s a story about a family that always cut the turkey in half at Thanksgiving. When asked why, each generation said it was because their mother had done it that way. Finally, the matriarch explained she had done it that way because her oven was too small for a whole turkey.
My father often told me he had made it his goal not to treat his wife and kids like my grandfather treated his family. Though he succeeded in many ways, I learned from him that it’s not enough to decide which way not to go. I would never have known about this if he had not told me.
So this Christmas, I invite you to look back on your own story. If you have parents or grandparents, or even great-grandparents, living, I invite you to ask for their stories. If you are a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent, I invite you to offer to share your family’s stories with your children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren – and not just the flowery parts.
Our stories tell us about who we are and where we came from. They can help us to understand, sometimes, why we do the things we do, and why we are the way we are. And they can help guide us into the kind of story God is calling us to live, as we learn from both the good and the bad.
This column appeared in The Herald-Palladium on December 21, 2019.