And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us. (Hebrews 11:39-40) 

As a young priest, I was once instructed by one much more senior than me, to omit the first part of today’s Gospel, and begin with, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way”. This long list of Hebrew names,  some 47 are mentioned, may seem a bit boring. Yet by omitting these names we omit what is at the very core of today’s feast. The Holy Fathers, the Genealogy of Christ, Jesus’ family tree. 

St Gregory Palamas reminds us that it is , “Impossible to recount is Christ’s descent according to His divinity, but His ancestry according to His human nature can be traced, since He who deigned to become Son of Man in order to save mankind was the offspring of men.” And herein we find the importance of today’s Gospel. The genealogy  is more commonly known as a “Family Tree”. The tree is an important symbol in the history of salvation. 

Read more:

We read in the very first book of the Bible, how our ancestors Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the Tree of  Knowledge of Good and Evil, communion with God was broken. Sin stood as a wall between God and man. The sin of the world was washed away by the Flood, and Noah learnt that there was dry land when a dove appeared with a branch of an olive tree.  God appeared to Moses as a burning bush and gave him the Law by which all were to live. Yet sin continued to poses mankind. 

The family tree of Jesus – the ancestors of God in Christ, are real characters. When we study them, we find that they were Jews and non-Jews; righteous and murderers; people who were faithful and people who betrayed God; there were slaves and there were free, and so on. We find sinners like ourselves. We find people who fell in times of weakness like King David. Christ was a descendent of sinful humanity.  Christ came from this family tree full of sinners and so we find that we have something in common with Him. God is not a Creator who separates Himself from us. He sends us His Son to become like us in all things but sin.  God has compassion for sinners who are part of His own family.  

The flesh that Christ took on from Mary was real flesh. So, none of us can claim that God can’t understand us because of our circumstances, because our parents weren’t perfect or because we ourselves fail from time to time. 

In the Nativity we find the fulfilment of the promise made to Adam and Eve and the Holy Fathers and Mothers. He fulfils the Commandments  given to us, the love for God and neighbour. But above all, He restores that Tree of Life which was in Paradise by becoming the Tree of Life on the Cross.  

And this is why we so reverently and prayerfully list the names of so many. They who waited, sinned yet repented and were redeemed. We ask that all the Holy Mothers and Fathers to intercede for us and help us to be partakers of the joy, of the Nativity of Christ not as strangers, but as members of God’s family.