Today marks the beginning of Advent in the church calendar. It’s a day celebrated by millions upon millions as we prepare for the coming of the Lord, remembering what happened in that small town of Bethlehem just over 2,000 years ago.
Normally, when we begin to offer reflections during the season of Advent, we start with Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:26 – the announcement that the Christ will be born. And while those 2 accounts carry great import for God’s people and the world, the story doesn’t actually begin there.
The story begins before the Christmas story. That’s what Matthew 1:1-17 is all about.
I’ve been teaching an introduction to the Old Testament class this semester and this has been one of the main points I’ve been making for a few months now (or the students might say I’ve been hammering it home). The story of Jesus, and subsequently, the story of Advent, begins in Matthew 1:1-17.
It’s a hard passage to read because it’s mostly made up of names. It’s Christ’s genealogy beginning with Abraham, the father of the Jews. Thus, the account sets Jesus out as God’s Messiah-King. To any Jew reading this account – and it would have been the Jews who were mainly reading this account – they were being faced with who Jesus is. They were drawn in because of a 17-verse summary that connected Jesus’ story with the Jewish story, their own story.
Matter of fact, this story is so embedded in Jewish life that Jesus, being a Jew, would have held just as tightly to this narrative. As theologian Christopher Wright reminds us:
“These are the words he [Jesus] read, these were the stories he knew, these were the songs he sang…In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.” (Christopher Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament)
This is where Advent truly begins: Matthew 1:1-17. Not that we don’t want to embrace a reading of Matthew 1:18-25. However, we won’t understand all the undertones of the Christmas story if we fail to grasp the Old Testament story and its lead-up to first century Jewish life in Palestine, the time when Jesus lived and walked and breathed. Paul tells us Jesus entered “when the set time had fully come” (Gal 4:4).
The angel will announce. Joseph will struggle. Mary will offer herself in submission to the Lord’s will. Mary will sing her Magnificat. The magi will see the star and travel from the far east. The shepherds will encounter the angels and then run to see the birth of the Christ child. Jesus will be saved from the death-clutches of Herod.
But……let’s not rush to the climax of Advent without remembering Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; nor Boaz, Rahab and Ruth; nor the kings such as David, Solomon, Uzziah and Hezekiah; nor Zerubbabel, Zadok and Eleazar.
Knowing their story, the Jewish story that Jesus embraced himself, will bring much more anticipation and excitement to the coming, or advent, of Jesus the Messiah.