And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. (2Kings 19:30 KJV) And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:12-16 KJV)
The Herrenhuter readings are marked by the promises of old and their fulfilment in Jesus Christ our Lord. So a bible verse for the day is drawn by lots (Losung) and then a suitable and fitting passage pointing at the fulfilment is added to it as the “teaching text” (Lehrtext). Today’s readings is a good illustration of this ecumenical practice, which goes back to Nikolaus Graf von Zinzendorf’s time and was practiced also by Bonhoeffer and his Finkenwalder circle of students and colleagues. Even today this usage is popular throughout Christendom, where the Bible is read as the Word of God and therefore such passages are meditated throughout the day and accompany the attentive reader and listener during the busy chores of his calling. Read and meditated with the faith and conviction that this word does not come back empty, but does just what God wants – namely create faith in those who hear it – when and where he wills (CA V: ubi et quando visum est Deo). It effective, clear and quite sufficient for salvation. Therefore blessed is he, who hears what the Spirit of God has to say to his people even in this time and age. Obviously this always has the negative side of woe and tribulation to him, who doesn’t hear and doesn’t give heed to God’s wholesome and winning communication.
In the most dark and dire times of Israel – in the Babylonian exile – when all was truly dismal as all hope, light and life had seemingly departed from Israel, God did not shut himself off completely from his people, but gave them a sliver of hope, a silver lining on the distant horizon, something like that faint glint of the new moon we saw in the West this past week. He lets them hear his promise: And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. It’s something like his word he spoke through his prophet Isaiah about the holy stump, that remained of God’s beloved planting – sometimes likened to an olive tree, sometimes depicted as his beloved vine and elsewhere as an impressive cedar. Well, this nurtured and cared for tree, planted at the waterside, pruned appropriately and which had been dug around quite conscientiously – had been cut off, chopped down and thrown out of the promised land, God’s garden and onto the rubbish heap in exile. A terrible calamity – too dreadful to contemplate – as all seemed quite lost. Matters where made even worse by the fact that this punishment was well deserved and a long-time in coming.
Into this darkness shines the light of God’s new promise: And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. Even where we just perceive cold, dreary and barren winter’s lifelessness, there the living God, the creator of all and everything visible and invisible, speaks of new life out of death. The remnant – the leftover and outcast – is to be witness of a new beginning. Roots are going to shoot and ample fruit is envisioned. The most comforting is, that God himself is speaking these good words of comfort and consolation, of hope and new perspectives – even when we had feared he has given up on us. For if God is for us, who can be against us – and if God paints a rosy picture, then surely our future is bright and not dismal at all. And God talks in the way of the confident Lord and king, who has everything under and in best control. The amazing thing is that this is not just empty talk, not just vain promises nor lazy chit-chat, but true and faithful, effective and creative pronouncements of our God – the living God of all. If he speaks, its already there – fact, history and solid rock – even if for us it takes time (generations, centuries!) to behold and realise – and sometimes .
See, that’s what the lesson from St.Matthew’s gospel underlines. After the Babylonian exile it took literally generations of God’s left-over people – the holy remnant (holy not because of their own doing, but rather by God’s choosing, election and destiny) living in God’s sacred orders of creation, his sanctified cycles of life of blessed marriage, of hopeful and faithful union of man and wife, begetting of children in love and blessed union according to God’s beautiful promise (Be fruitful and multiply), of following his mandate of nurturing and bringing-up the children in the holy faith and sanctified traditions of God’s people in circumcision and teaching of his encompassing law, of clinging to his promises in god-fearing families and sticking with his ways as grandparents, husband and wife, children and infants too even in the daily chores of our troubled and often difficult lives.
How much drama, how many stories, how many good and bad days for loving husbands and respectful wives, of courtship and celebration, of high and lows, of forgiveness, new beginnings, growth, attachment, memories, delight and suffering is all summarised in these short and pithy sentences: After they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary… (Matthew 1:12-16 KJV)?
If you think of all those, who give up on family life, don’t care for marriage, think it wise to neglect family life and orders, forgetting God’s goodness and the loving ways of the heavenly Father that he has attached to these ancient institutions of life and blessing – just because of some calamity and disaster – or because they think they know better or somebody has told them, that these relations and life-long attachments are just of yesteryear and proclaim the fallacy and hopeless ideology “how on earth can you beget children into this world?” – then consider the miracle and wonder, that God preserved the faith of his people through the catastrophe of Israel’s destruction and exile – without a temple! – through generations and even does so today. Here too and yet again he has made true, what he promised, when he gave Israel his most holy commandments: … but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:6) That’s reason enough to laud and magnify his holy name – day in day out – and also to confess our poor, miserable and sinful ways and being that we so quickly forget his blessings and neglect his holy ways and get lost in our own fictions and fictations of imagined things, just because we think its a good idea at the time and believe we can.
And Joseph was the husband of Mary. What a short sentence. Doesn’t reveal much of the drama of those first months of betrowal and wedded/married life – that conception by the Holy Spirit, the sinful desire to leave the bride and being kept by God’s direct intervention through his holy angel, that comforting visit to the aged cousin Elisabeth and her husband greybeard Zachariahs, the arduous journey to Bethlehem because of that decree by Augustus. Nothing of that is listed and mentioned here by the evangelist St. Matthews, because all of that is put into the shadow of the bright light at the end of all – that glorious incarnation of the living God – the most wonderful culmination of all God’s promises from the most ancient of days: Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Oh yes, the promised Messiah – the one, to save, redeem, help, forgive, heal and sanctify his people and all the world – he was born of the virgin Mary, holy mother of the living God (Theotokos) there in Bethlehem. He, the most delightful, beautiful and amazing fruit of that stump that had been written off as dead, lost, outcast by just too many. He, the one, who is the Christ – anointed to be all in all – King, Lord and highest majesty with the name above all names, called upon by all nations and people of the world as their only saviour and way to salvation and blessed life with God in eternity.
Oh – blessed time of Advent, where we remember God’s promises of old and then the even more holy and sanctified time of Christmas, when we remember and recall that the triune God made true all those promises by becoming a little baby in the manger. Oh, how wonderful and miraculous and amazing are the ways of our God! Who would have advised him in this way? Who could of thought of saving the world in such a way? We fall prostrate before the depth and width of his insight and foresight. He has done everything marvellously well. Praise his name now and forever + Amen.
O God, You make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Grant that as we joyfully receive Him as our Redeemer, we may with sure confidence behold Him when He comes to be our Judge; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (LSB Pastoral Care Companion Collect for Christmas Eve Pg. 540)
Let our gladness Banish sadness All throughout creation! God, whose favour Sent our Saviour, Praise with adoration! He is born in a stall, Now he lies, infant small, in a manger, Heavenly stranger, Lord of all, In a manger, heavenly stranger, Lord of all.
Whom the sages And the ages Eagerly awaited, Angels proudly Herald loudly In their songs elated. Let us, too, in these days, Thankful hearts gladly raise; to the tender Infant render All our praise, To the tender Infant render All our praise.
Child appealing, Light revealing, Jesus Christ, our pleasure; God, yet very Son of Mary, Heaven’s gift and treasure. Mighty king, gentle friend, As our Lord to us bend, With Your blessing Us caressing, Now descend, With Your blessing Us caressing, Now descend.
Juraj Tranovsky, 1591-1637 tr Jaroslav J. Vajda *1919