This helps us to think about how our past and our environment shapes the person we are, yet in Christ we do not need to be defined by that.
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Make bends in your pipe-cleaner to divide it into thirds. Each section represents a part of your ‘ancestry’.
For the first section, think about your genetic make up – the way you look, your talents and abilities, your innate personality. This is the foundation of who you are. Shape the first section to represent that. For example, a resilient person might make a spring shape, or a worrier might make a tangled knot.
The second section represents your surroundings – your culture, your family and friends. How have these affected who you are today? How important are the beliefs and traditions you were brought up with? How has your peer group changed you? Shape the second section to reflect how you have been shaped.
The rest of the pipe-cleaner is for your life experiences. These are some of the most formative parts of life, both for good and for bad. Think through your strongest memories – some will be happy and others sad – but each will have added something to who you are now, and you can form a shape to represent it.
When you have finished making your shapes, set down your pipe-cleaner and look at it. This is your heritage, what you have become though what has been. But despite, or perhaps because of that, God’s purpose for you is “more than you could ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20). Even when the people of Judah were being taken in to exile and the line of Davidic kings extinguished, God had a plan for the righteous Branch to save them.
Take your pipe-cleaner and open it out. It will not go back completely straight again, but it does not need to hold the shape of its past for ever. Form it into a new shape that represents your place in God’s kingdom as a beloved son or daughter of the King.
Ooh, it sounds all Christmassy, doesn’t it? A righteous branch of King David’s line – cue a favourite carol and pass a mince pie. We look in our Bibles at Matt 1 and see that line of lovely kings, David, Hezekiah, Josiah and so on, leading right up to Jesus. What a wonderful family tree. Or was it?
Hezekiah and Josiah are famous for being heroic reformers, but some of the other names in the list are not the kind of rellies you’d boast about. Manasseh and Amon were as bad a pair as ever sat on David’s throne, and David himself had some none-too-glorious moments. Eventually it ended with a curse for the last king! None of his sons would ever sit on David’s throne.
Hang on a minute – isn’t Jesus supposed to be the son of David? Isn’t the whole point of Christmas that Jesus is the Messiah and he’s fulfilling all those prophecies about a king of David’s line? (By the way, ‘messiah’ doesn’t mean saviour. It just means ‘anointed person’ – it’s how someone was marked out as a king.) How does that fit with ‘none of your sons will be king’?
It’s certainly true than none of the sons mentioned in the curse were ever kings of Judah, (they got hauled off to Babylon at that point), and there were no more kings of David’s line. But here we are pointing to a future king, the ultimate forever King. We guess they mean Jesus – ‘The Son of David’, as they sang on Palm Sunday. But how can that Messiah be Jesus, the son of David, when earlier God had said that the line of David’s sons ends here?
Well, I’m glad you asked that, not because I have all the answers, but because it’s good to ask the tricky questions. We don’t have to have our brains surgically removed to be Christians. We don’t have to hide from the difficult bits in the Bible. In fact, let’s bring in another one. Matthew 1 gives the ancestors of Jesus, listing all those kings. Luke does the same thing but has a completely different list! What gives? Is one of them made up? Both? Did someone get it wrong?
It’s unlikely to be a mistake. Jewish people were very, very keen on family and were super-careful to know who was descended from whom. Some people have quoted this as proof that the Bible is made up or full of errors. But I think the opposite. If I were trying to make up the Bible, I’d have made sure that my list of ancestors was the same as the other guy’s, not inconveniently different. The fact that it’s awkward and inconsistent is evidence for it being real. Ask any police officer.
So what is going on then? Most scholars believe that the Luke list is tracing Mary’s ancestors. Yes, I know it says Jesus “was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of ...” and so on, but there was no word for son-in-law at the time, so upon their marriage Joseph would have counted as the son of Mary’s dad. The wedding-speech cliche really would have been true – “you’re not losing a daughter, you’re gaining a son”.
So what we have here is a fabulous example of God’s planning. One text says ‘the son of David’, another text says ‘none of your sons will sit on the throne’, so it seems like we have a conflict. But look at verse 15 in our passage; “I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line”. A branch.
Just when you thought the stump was dead, a new shoot sprouts from the side. Mary’s blood-line descends from David, but by a side branch, not by the kings whose godlessness lost the throne to their descendants. Meanwhile Jesus, as Joseph’s adopted son, inherits though him the legal right to be counted as a descendent of the kingly line. A son of the promise, but not of the curse.
So what does all his mean for us? Several things. Firstly, let’s not be afraid of asking God the hard questions. We don’t have to pretend we believe stuff we don’t. God can handle it. It’s OK.
Secondly, God keeps his promises – always. Maybe I can’t see how, but I don’t have to be able to understand every detail in order to be content that God know what he’s doing. God is bigger than me, so if I sometimes don’t get it, that’s OK too. I’m not sure I’d want to believe in a God who was small enough to fit into my intellect, anyway.
Thirdly, God works through real people, with real pasts – even when those real pasts include some pretty murky episodes. Your history does not define you. I will say that again. Your history does not define you. It will shape you, of course. We are all products of our experiences. But it need not define you. Jesus had some right stinkers in his lineage – an adulterer and murderer, a load of idolators, plus a prostitute, a gentile and a whole bunch of complete nobodies. Yet in this unpromising soil grew the King of Kings – a branch of David’s tree who sits on his throne for ever.
The glory of the Gospel is that there is always a fresh start – a making of everything, and everyone, new. The Lord Our Righteous Saviour says “I Jesus … am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.” Rev 22:16. May he light our lives.
As we think back through our own histories, what parts would we rather forget?
Thank you that you always keep your promises.
Thank you that there is hope and restoration.
Thank you that you have plans even when we cannot see them,
Thank you that the hurt and broken-ness of our lives is not for ever,
but your kingdom is.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
‘“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
“In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.”
New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.