In eight days Christians will again celebrate the miracle that forever changed the world. When God became one of us in Jesus, being born into our world in Bethlehem, we received a promise of hope we never thought possible and a future joy we never believed our hearts could know. This is why Christians profess that in Jesus we meet our king and our redeemer, our savior and our messiah.
But as today’s readings testify, Jesus will be a king dramatically unlike other kings and a savior it is easy to overlook. The reading from Genesis foretells the royal life of Israel. Jacob announces to his son Judah that he, like other kings, will conquer his enemies, receive homage from the people, and be like a lion, “the king of beasts,” that everyone fears to approach. By contrast, the psalm response foretells the reign of God that comes in Jesus. Jesus will rule with the wisdom, mercy, and goodness of God. Under his kingship the world will overflow in justice and peace. The poor will not be trampled, crushed, and forgotten, but defended and vindicated. The suffering will not be overlooked or ignored, but comforted and healed.
The gospel passage from Matthew recounts the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his lineage from Abraham, the founder of the Israelites, through Jacob and Judah, Jesse, David, and Solomon, all the way up to Joseph, Jesus’ father. What can seem like a bewildering chronicle of names nearly impossible to pronounce reveals something wonderful: God works through human beings—including some who are dramatically flawed—to bring about something extraordinarily blessed. But it is easy to miss the blessing, easy not to see it at all, because God who is savior and king enters our world not in wealth and majesty, but as a helpless child in a family of refugees looking for shelter.
Today’s scriptures remind us that to prepare for the coming of Christ we must look for Jesus where perhaps we least expect to find him. Jesus is right before us, once more beseeching our help, in the stranger, in immigrants and refugees, in the poor and homeless, in all those who, like Joseph and Mary and Jesus, are in need of hospitality. Are our hearts open to receive them? Are our hands ready to help?
Paul Wadell is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.