There’s Room for Every Story

Sunday, November 27,2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Matthew 1:1-7

Grace and peace to you from Christ our Savior, whose grace and love stretch from generation to generation. Amen.

I enjoy watching the show Finding Your Roots, on PBS. Perhaps you’ve seen it? In it, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and a team of researchers trace the ancestral stories of famous journalists and entertainers. Then he sits down with them and walks them through what the experts found out about their families. These stories are powerful because they peel back the layers of the past to reveal truths that were often unknown.  Rarely is there a story untouched by tragedy, scandal, and perseverance.  Stars learn about the heroism it took for their families to make it in America, the ways their ancestors sometimes failed, and sometimes overcame horrific circumstances. Often these famous people discover the personal connection they have to both sides of slavery or the Holocaust or other historic events of our collective history. Unknown lives come to life when these stories are told, and they are given a power to influence the future. At the end of each episode, almost inevitably, the people who have learned about their ancestors’ lives share how they feel a new responsibility to tell others about these generational stories of hardship, heartache, and perseverance.

Advent is a season when we tend to gather across generations. Often, we tell stories of those who aren’t with us anymore, or even learn new things about our family’s past that change how we might understand our place in our family and in history. I remember learning at a family holiday gathering several years ago that one of my ancestors, who had recently emigrated from Germany, was conscribed into the Union army, and fought in the Civil War. It changed the way I see that piece of American history.

You probably have your own family stories, or wonderings about the past and how it has shaped who you are. Maybe you told some new stories this weekend around the Thanksgiving table. In my wife’s family there’s always the story about how someone forgot to take the turkey out of the freezer one Christmas back in the 40s or 50s. Erica’s grandmother, a young woman at the time, wouldn’t let that ruin the holiday. She went out and found the only place open on Christmas and got hamburgers to go with all the side dishes. A story like this may seem benign, but it tells us something about the character of a woman who knew what was ultimately important, and wouldn’t let a culinary oversight ruin a perfectly good day to gather with family and friends.

Advent ties our lives of faith together from generation to generation. It might seem a strange thing for today’s reading to be a list of people, rather than a story or parable of Jesus, or an Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah. But with this list of names come countless stories of faith and failure, of tragedy and triumph, of human frailty and God’s capacity to heal and forgive. Without knowing their names, we can’t begin to know what happened to them. Knowing their stories changes how we understand what it means to be faithful, even today. Even more, they tell us how God’s grace and mercy stretches from generation to generation through all kinds of people.

I sometimes wonder if too often we think that everyone is a hero in the Bible and that none of us could possibly live up to their example. But just look at a few of these names on this list and you’ll find complex and all too human examples of what it means to be part of God’s family.  Look close enough and you’ll see that God makes more room for every story than we could imagine.

We think of David as the greatest king of Israel. He united the kingdoms and brought peace and prosperity to God’s people. What we sometimes overlook is that he also had a man murdered so he could marry the man’s wife after he committed adultery with her, and then he lied about it. Just in that recap alone, he broke at least six of the Ten Commandments! Not exactly the greatest example of faithful living. His actions had consequences, but his story also shows us that acts like David’s are not outside of God’s justice and mercy.

This list of Jesus’ ancestors also reveals the cleverness of God’s people. These were often women who had little or no power. Their stories show us how God’s people find a way to seek justice and make a future for themselves and the next generations regardless the cost. Tamar outwitted her father-in-law, Judah, when he didn’t make good on the promise to have his younger son marry her, after Judah’s older son died. As was the custom.

Ruth “convinced” Boaz to take her into his household and marry her, after she’d been widowed in a foreign land. Sometimes faithfulness looks like bending the boundaries of social norms to hold those in power accountable with whatever power you have.

There’s room for every story in God’s family, from the past to the present to the future. From the Middle East to the Midwest and everywhere in between. Our stories vary in detail and origin, by culture and time. That’s what makes our human family so fascinating and wonderous. The stories of things that happen to us and the stories we create because of what happens may affect how you live and how we see God. They may affect your sense of belonging or your confidence or your sense of purpose. Your story may affect the relationships you have with others or that others have with you. But your story will never affect the way God sees you. You are a beloved part of the family of God.  In this season of Advent, we will encounter the generations who have gone before us in faith. They are the ones who show us how to wait and hope for a Savior. They are the ones whose encounter with the Living God inspire us to trust that God’s mercy and enduring love are enough. And their stories encourage us to wonder what legacy we will leave for the next generations.

The Iroquois tribe live by the principle of Seven Generations, believing that their actions and decisions will impact the seven generations after them. The genealogy of Jesus is broken into three sets of 14 generations, double seven generations. Perhaps we too would be wise and faithful to consider how our faith and our lives impact others beyond the generations we know. This morning we welcome two new children in to God’s beloved family through the waters of baptism. Each will receive the same promise that we bear on our brows, and each will have an opportunity to encounter the living God through each of us. How can we share a faith that demonstrates a commitment to these little ones who come after us and also honor the faith of those who have come before us? How do we as a faith community tell one another of the grace of God we experience and what it means in our lives so that they may be able to see the grace of God in their lives?

Friends, in this season of Advent we wait for a Savior who comes for you, and for me, with hope and love, and an abundance of room for every part of your story. May we be a community where these stories are shared. Where love and acceptance is found. And where from generation to generation the hope of Jesus is alive and lived. Amen.

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