Now that we are in the midst of the Christmas season, Christians are focusing on the first few chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke where the events surrounding Christ’s birth are detailed. In churches around the world, congregations sing beloved Christmas carols proclaiming the Savior’s birth and pastors wax poetic about that singular event’s eternal implications.
However, you don’t find many carols or sermons delivering the details of Jesus’s lineage. One hymn that I know of – “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” – briefly mentions that the Christ is “of Jesse’s lineage coming” but it doesn’t go into nearly as much detail as Matthew 1:1-17 or Luke 3:23-38.
The fact that Matthew opens his gospel with that genealogy is a big signal to the fact that this is very important information. In the cultures of that time, one’s heritage was very important. In contemporary Western cultures, we don’t put much stock in one’s pedigree. That’s probably a result of our history of deposing the aristocrats of old and embracing republican ideals.
However, just because West doesn’t care about genealogies doesn’t mean the rest of the world is over them too. And nor should they be. It’s important to know your history.
The Mamprusi, among whom I live, treasure the genealogy of their kings. The center piece of the annual Damba Festival is when the king’s praise singer and all the drummers sing through the current overlord’s genealogy. The process takes over an hour because it isn’t just listing the generations over several centuries. The singer praises each king with song stories and proverbs that describe the attributes and events of his rule.
Damba occurs around December every year and it always brings me back to the genealogies of Christ in the gospels. If you read over the names in Matthew 1, there is a story behind each one. Often you can head over to the Old Testament and read about the events. Some are exciting and others quite shocking (I’m looking at you, Tamar!).
Genealogies can remind us that God is in control and that our lives have purpose. God ordained the lives of every single ancestor of yours and guided events leading up to your own arrival in the world. He created you and put you here – at this time and in this place – for a reason.
Jesus’s genealogy is evidence that God had a plan from the very beginning of the Hebrew nation (Abraham, Matthew 1:2) and even the beginning of mankind (Adam, Luke 3:38) to send a Savior. And that Savior, to quote the aforementioned hymn was:
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load
* UPDATE * My friend and church music genius Kenny Peters pointed out that the less-known Christmas carol “While Shepherds Watched” mentions that the Savior is “born of David’s line.”