January 6, Epiphany of the Lord (Matthew 2:1–12)
Genealogies suggest a beautiful inevitability even amid political impossibility.
When I was in high school, my paternal grandparents came from South Korea for their first visit to the United States. I hadn’t seen them since I was eight years old. One evening after dinner, my grandfather sat us down and pulled out a large, black book. He opened it, carefully turned the pages, and explained how he had spent years compiling the names of all those in our family tree. The book included photographs, drawings, and maps that described our lineage, beginning with Kim Su Roh in AD 42 and going through 74 generations. I remember being struck by the truth that we are shaped not by our own ambitions, accomplishments, or even legacies but by our histories, by the people who came before us. And all this is marked by structures of time.
It is significant that Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy. While the revelation of God in Jesus Christ often focuses on the resurrection, Matthew’s focus is firmly rooted in Jesus’ roots—in the relationships between ancestors and descendants, making explicit the straight line from Jesus to both familiar characters and less familiar ones: “The generations from Abraham to King David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations” (1:17).
Matthew incorporates time in particular ways. Certainly it serves as a legitimizing background for his narrative. But Jesus’ lineage, like my grandfather’s, is more than a ledger of names. The writer grounds this witness in an invocation of places, events, images, and teachings—even prophecies, hopes, and dreams. Jesus—the Son of God, the Son of David, the Son of man, the Messiah—does not materialize out of thin air; he is the result of generations. And the plot thickens when Mary enters the scene, full of grace, blessed among women. Suddenly, we get a dramatic testimony of the miraculous arrival of Emmanuel.