Another great one from the Advent devotional, Watch for the Light. This one was written by Gail Godwin about the precariously long lineage recounted in Matthew’s Gospel, which moves from broken promise to broken promise, and finally ending with the Promised One.

…These three minutes worth of tongue twisting names contain the essential theology of the Old and New Testaments for the whole Church, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant alike.

Now that’s a pretty bold and sweeping ecumenical statement. But Brown tells us Zwingli was already preaching it back during the Reformation. Zwingli preached that Matthew’s genealogy contained the essential theology of the Reformation: that of salvation by grace.

The ‘story of the origin of Jesus Christ’ begins with Abraham begetting Isaac; no mention of that deserving elder son, poor unfairly banished Ishmael. Then Isaac begets Jacob; not a word about his elder brother Esau whose birthright Jacob stole. Jacob begets Judah and his brothers; why is Judah chosen and not the good and extraordinary Joseph?

What’s going on here? According to Matthew, who is faithful to Old Testament theology, God does not necessarily select the noblest or most deserving person to carry out divine purposes…that’s the interesting part. For reasons unknown to us, God may select the Judahs who sell their brothers into slavery, the Jacobs who cheat their way to first place, the Davids who steal wives and murder rivals—but also compose profound and beautiful psalms of praise.

But this will fit in with Jesus’ coming ministry to tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and lepers, ‘to those who need a physician,’ not those who are already righteous. Matthew’s genealogy is showing us how the story of Jesus Christ contained—and would continue to contain—the flawed and inflicted and insulted, the cunning and weak-willed and the misunderstood. His is an equal opportunity ministry for crooks and saints.

…And this is of course where the message settles directly upon us. If so much powerful stuff can have been accomplished down through the millennia by wastrels, betrayers, and outcasts, and through people who were such complex mixtures of sinner and saint, and through so many obscure and undistinguished others, isn’t that a pretty hopeful testament to the likelihood that God is using us, with our individual flaws and gifts, in all manner of peculiar and unexpected ways?

Who of us can say we’re not in the process of being used right now, this Advent, to fulfill some purpose whose grace and goodness would boggle our imagination if we could even begin to get our minds around it?