the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.
About a month ago, while raking and bagging leaves for hours, I started to listen to podcasts. I happened upon an interview with a female theology professor, Jeannine K. Brown and I liked her. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned that most of her study has been focused on the book of Matthew and she had recently published a commentary in the Teach the Text Commentary Series. After a little research, I ordered the book feeling an inclination to go deeper into the Bible. I talked to a friend about possibly reading it together but did not make any specific plans.
Today I started an Advent Devotional on my YouVersion Bible app. Reading number 1: Matthew 1. (Insert one angel singing, “Gloria” here.) I pulled out my commentary reading and rejoicing, learning and musing.
Ten years ago, I would have cringed at the sight of the genealogy in Matthew 1. Skimming through the familiar and unfamiliar names, I would have rushed right to the moment the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. One of the gifts of middle age, however, is perspective, context. As I look through that list of names today I’m having a hard time gathering my thoughts to consider the riches hidden in that list of names.
That list signifies time. Do you know it was approximately 500 years between the time Isaiah prophesied about a Messiah and the time Jesus was born? I struggle to remember what happened earlier this week and cannot fathom what my life will look like in 5 years. All the people on this list of the genealogy of Jesus lived with the anticipation of the Messiah who would release them from their darkness. They lived and died under the shadow of the waiting. Generation after generation Isaac, Tamar, Ram, Salmon, Jehoram, Josiah, Zerubbabel, and Matthan lived and waited and did not see the light break upon them. They did not live to see the promise fulfilled.
They were part of the promise, though. See their names there in that list? I do not pretend to understand how that works. Some of these people have parts of their stories told in the Old Testament, but the vast majority of them do not. Yet, here they are listed in The Story. In the opening words of the New Testament, this book that has been translated into hundreds of languages, Salmon’s name is there. The guy who shares a name with a fish is in the opening credits to the greatest story of all time. Salmon had already been dead for decades. For all we know, he fished every day of his life. Maybe he never even thought about the Messiah. We don’t know.
Context. On my very best days, I feel a deep sense of assurance about this Big Context. I believe in the long and meaningful story of the Kingdom of God. I believe that my name is also on a list God continues to write. I prefer to think He is writing it in calligraphy because that seems important and appropriate. And that one day when time is full, I will stand in the full presence of God, no more “through a glass darkly” but “face to face”. (See 1 Corinthians 13.) I will know just as I am fully known and this waiting, all these years of dark and light and the crazy haze will be worth it.
On my darkest days, I try to remember this dark span of time that ultimately leads to God becoming flesh. When I cannot see past the heaviness of the hour, I will choose to trust that I am standing on a span of road that leads to another Bethlehem. I will ask God to send me a donkey to carry me forward. I will believe God knows my name and my years regardless of whether any other human being reads my words or sees my heart.
The baby Jesus was born, a promise fulfilled, the result of years of waiting by real people each of whom is somehow a part of this long, long story. Context gives me hope.