Isaiah 7.10-16; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-25
+ 26 years ago years ago today my dear grandmother, Phoebe Olson, died. Now none of you knew her. But she is someone I have referenced before in sermons.She was a very devoutly Lutheran, firm, no nonsense person. And her mother, Mary McFadden Nelson, who died 72 years ago on December 31st was a not very devout Scots-Irish Congregationalist, who was, as far as I knew, a very kind, though long-suffering woman who died of Parkinson’s Disease in the State Hospital in Jamestown just three weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
My grandmother and great-grandmother might not be that interesting to you. But I know someone’s great-grandmother who might be interesting to you. Well, to most of you. I don’t think she would be too interesting to our own Thom Marubbio.
Yes, I am talking Jesus’ great-grandmother. What? You didn’t know Jesus had a great-grandmother? Of course Jesus had a great-grandmother. And a grandmother too.
This from a story from a couple of years ago:
A historian has identified the great-grandmother of Jesus.
According to Florentine medieval manuscripts analyzed by a historian, the great-grandmother of Jesus was a woman named St. Ismeria. St. Ismeria likely served as a role model for older women during the 14th and 15th centuries. The legend of St. Ismeria sheds light on both the Biblical Virgin Mary's family and also on religious and cultural values of 14th-century Florence….
"According to the legend, Ismeria is the daughter of Nabon of the people of Judea, and of the tribe of King David," wrote the historian who found the legend.
She married "Santo Liseo," who is described as "a patriarch of the people of God." The legend continues that the couple had a daughter named Anne who married Joachim [who, of course, are the paretns of the Blessed Virgin Mary—yes, we actually commemorate them in our Episcopal book of saints, Holy Women, Holy Men]. After 12 years, Liseo died. Relatives then left Ismeria penniless.
I enjoy stories like St. Ismeria, mother of St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yes, I know it’s a fiction. Yes, I know there is no scriptural basis for any of it. But, I enjoy it nonetheless.
I love the story of St. Ismeria and the story of Sts. Anne and Joachim because it’s in our nature as questioning, creative human beings to try to fill in and make sense of this person Jesus and how he has come to us. It’s part of what it means to be human. And being human is what the Incarnation is all about.
This coming week, like almost no other time in the Church Year, we are forced to take a good, hard long look at what is it we believe regarding this event of the Incarnation—this even in which God—GOD—stops becoming some distant, strange force in our lives, and becomes one of us. God, coming among us in the form of Jesus, in the form of this child, born to the Virgin Mary, suddenly breaks every single barrier we ever thought we had to God. No longer are there barriers. No longer is there is a distance. No longer is there a veil separating us from God.
In Jesus, we find that meeting place between us as humans and God. God has reached out to us and has touched us not with a finger of fire, not with the divine hand of judgments, but rather with tender, loving touch of a Child.
This is what Incarnation is all about.
And because it is, because this event changes everything, because we and our very humanity, our very physical bodies, are redeemed by this event, we want to glorify in it. We want to make sense of it. We want to tell stories—sometimes even fictional stories—about how long-ranging and lasting this event is.
Because Jesus is like us in his humanity, we want relate to him. We want to say, yes, he had a mother like ours. And naturally we expand from there. Yes, he had a grandmother (whether her name was Anne or not). Yes, he then had a great-grandmother.
Of course, some of us might think of these things as frivolous. But, for those us who do find meaning in our own lives when we study things like genealogy, we realize is not frivolous. When we study things like genealogy, we doing more than just studying history and the differing, sometimes very complicated genealogical threads. When we study genealogy, what we are studying is ourselves. We are studying who are we and what we are and where we have been. The blood that flowed in the veins of great-grandparents and grandparents and parents, is the same blood that flows in our veins. There is a lineage there.
Our scripture this morning are filled with references to God working through the lineage of David. In our reading from Isaiah today, we find God speaking through the prophet announcing that, through the lineage of David, Immanuel will come.
Paul today talks of how God worked through the lineage of David to bring about this revelation of God’s self in human form. Paul says he is “set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets from David according to the flesh…”
And in our Gospel reading, the angel calls Joseph, “son of David” and that through this lineage, through this virgin, we have Emmanuel. We have “God with us.”
So when we celebrate Mary, when we celebrate Mary’s mother (whoever that might be) and Mary’s mother’s mother, we are celebrating Jesus.
Today, remembering and praying for my grandmother, I realize that she is a part of me. I am celebrating a part of myself in her and her in me.
When we think about Jesus’ lineage, we are attempting to say to ourselves, Yes, this makes Jesus even more like us. We consider Jesus relatives, the same way we consider those prophets throughout the centuries before Jesus came who foretold Jesus. All of them, point forward for to Jesus. All of them point to that point when God and humanity meets. And when we consider these forbearers of Jesus, we realize that this wasn’t some last-minute movement of God’s part. We realize that God was on the move, priming us and preparing us over centuries for this event. God was paving the way for Jesus to come to us as one of us.
That is what the story of Ismeria and Anne and Joachim and the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Josephare all about. That is also what the Hebrew Bible is about for us Christians. And that, too is, what this season of Advent is about as well.
This coming week, we will celebrate an event that is unlike any other event. It is the even in which God finally break through the barriers and, in doing, destroy those very barriers. This week we celebrate that cataclysmic event in which heaven and earth are finally merged, in which the veil is torn aside, in which all that we are and all that we long for finally come together. Nothing will ever be the same as it was before. And thank God!
It is an event that transformed us and changed in ways we might not even fully realize or appreciate even at this point. Christmas is almost here. I don’t think any of us would doubt that. We see the trees, the lights, the Santas and the reindeer.
But the real Christmas—that life-altering event in which God took on flesh like our flesh, when God allowed blood like our blood to flow in veins, when a heart like our hearts beat with love and care, is here, about the dawn into our lives. Truly this is Emmanuel. This is “God with us.”
God is with us.
The star that was promised to us, that was prepared for us through generations and generations, through the countless lives of those who went before it, has appeared into the darkest night of our existence is now shining brightly, burning the clouds of doubt and despair away.