Summary: Rediscovering your eternal birthright.
The question of where do you begin at the start of Advent has been on my mind recently. How can you gain a sense of setting out on the Advent journey, towards the miraculous Birth of Christ; and feel purposeful, focused and perhaps more importantly, humbled as you consider the true wonder of Christmas time.
Although some people correlate Advent with Lent, and undoubtably there are similarities, they are of course very different events. I believe Lent to be a time of considered, personal, spiritual reflection and a period when exploring new disciplines such as going without something (chocolate, wine or TV), or giving something of yourself more regularly (such as writing letters to prisoners weekly, volunteering on a charity project or cooking each day for one additional person in need), can provide real insight into areas that become apparent as important to us – often we don’t realize just how attached we are to something until we try and give it up!
However Advent has a very different character, it is also a period of spiritual reflection although this takes place within the framework of national activity to prepare for Christmas, particularly in the context of expenditure and food preparations; we also socialize considerably during Advent, and plan journeys for the Christmas period to visit new environments or to be with people we love so there is a lot going on and in the midst of it all, we can fall into the real danger of missing the point of Advent all together.
As we consider the genealogy of Jesus set out in Matthew Chapter 1 verses 1 – 17 we can be excused for wondering at the importance of a long list of names, when the bit we really want to get to is the birth of our Lord.
It helps to have a little context about the author, Matthew.
Matthew was a tax collector, order, systems and accuracy of numbers were very important to him and in fact provided the framework for his livelihood. To Matthew, it would be hard to start a task without being clear on the elements required to complete it.
In the world at the time of Christ, where you came from, and who you were related to was your heritage, your social standing and your business card, all rolled into one. In the Bible people are often talked about in relationship to whom they are related to; it sets the context for understanding where someone has come from and very likely where they will be now. For many of those in the Bible, traveling outside of their village community would not be something they would do and therefore, everyone, in the main, was known and their credentials established.
Therefore the context for the family line that Matthew has laid out, prior to reporting on the birth of Christ, is to demonstrate the valued and respected family tree that Jesus was born into.
Reading this anew led me to consider whether, as Christians, we also have our own credentials in order in our heart and in our head.
We live in a world where ease of access facilitates the ability to travel and see many new places, yet with publicity around carbon emissions we are encouraged now more than ever, to stay closer to home and travel less; with this being the case you would have thought that we would know our neighbours and their challenges yet as community has broken down in many areas over the last 3-4 decades, most of us no longer know who we live beside, or what their issues are.
The Charity Age Concern reported in 2008 that around 25% of people over 65 years living in the community have symptons of depression which warrant interventions; in 2006 31% of all suicides were from people aged 55 and over and the next largest group was young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
If Christians everywhere would reach out to care for those they can reach, on their street, in their schools and offices and welcome them into their homes, our communities would start to really feel the joy of being accepted and of belonging.
Perhaps it is time for Christians to refresh the concept of heritage; the Christian message is a powerful reminder that by embracing Jesus as our Saviour, we are eternally linked to His family line, throughout the ages.
We went to see the play The Lion King; it has powerful music and a strong storyline related to family and honour and identity. There is a young cub who grows up and runs wild and at one point his father visits him in a dream and says “you have forgotten who you are and because of that, you have forgotten me”. It is so emotional, you find yourself both caught up in the story and immediately relating to your own situation; have you forgotten who you are?