The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth…
For a long time, in my spiritual immaturity, I wondered why the Church designated this reading for the Sunday before Christmas. I understood it traced the lineage of Jesus Christ, but it hardly seemed inspirational—most of the names were ones I hadn’t heard of. However, with the gift of time and God’s grace, I came to understand that this is so much more than a simple list of generations. The Church, in her wisdom, has keenly set the reading in the last days before the Nativity of our Lord as a valuable lesson.
At this point—within a week of December 25—many of the noble intentions I have for the Nativity Fast have usually been discarded and replaced by the tasks that “need” to get done for Christmas. I’ll tell myself I’m trying to focus on the birth of Christ, but I still subconsciously want my Christmas to look like many of the images we are bombarded with this time of year—families and homes that are happy, healthy, and seemingly perfect. I’m not sure about you, but my house doesn’t look like a picture from a Pottery Barn catalog, and my family (myself included)—though loved dearly—is far from perfect. This is where the family ties listed within the gospel reading become important. In the book The Year of Grace of the Lord, a Monk of the Eastern Church writes:
What needs to be clearly understood is that the ancestors of Jesus were not all just and holy men. Amongst them are also sinners; those who have committed incest, adultery, murder; an alien woman, the names of Judas, of Thamar, of David and Ruth are filled with spiritual significance. Jesus wanted, humanly, to be linked with ‘all that’ and to ‘all those.’ He wanted to clear a way for himself through the sins and crimes of men. And so it is the history of each one of us that he takes upon himself and overcomes. For each one of us has some of the features of those of Jesus’s ancestors who are the furthest form holiness.
Christ wasn’t born into a perfect family but, rather, a fallen one—as we all are. His entry into the world was neither cute nor pretty—he was born in a cave filled with smelly animals and, shortly after, his family fled the country because of a jealous, murderous king. So the Christmas story indicates all sorts of imperfection and turmoil. Ultimately, it says that in the midst of our own brands of chaos, we should really be focused on the One born in a manger for our salvation. When our hearts are inclined this way, we can readily accept that He came to take away our sins—no matter our struggles, no matter our weaknesses. Whom did He come for?
He came for the man who just lost his job and doesn’t want to tell his family.
He came for the widow and her children who just lost their husband and father.
He came for the family struggling with addictions.
He came for the new mother struggling with post-partum depression.
He came for the wayward teen who is imprisoned for selling drugs.
He came for these and every single one of us so that we, in our imperfection, can be made perfect through Him. In our folly, we frequently romanticize Christmas and forget to concentrate on the primary subject—God becoming incarnate. Christ’s Nativity isn’t necessarily about being merry and bright. It is about being present with Him in whatever joys, challenges, and realities we’ve been given. So even if you don’t have the stocking hanging by the chimney, or can’t be home for Christmas this year, you can still invite the Christ Child to humbly be born in your heart. If you struggle this Christmas, reach out! Go to the Savior in prayer, to your parish for support, and other agencies for help. God didn’t create you to struggle alone. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Melissa is the Associate Director for the Center for Family Care. She and her husband, George, live with their son, Nomikos, in Tarpon Springs, Florida.