Christmas readings at churches and homes will rightly include a heavy dose of Luke 2 (for the birth narrative), and Matthew 2 (for the visit of the magi). Even Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming Immanuel may make an appearance, but there’s one Christmas-related passage of Scripture that’s more likely to be skipped over.
You know the part I’m talking about. It’s the one we all skip over to get to the good parts — that cumbersome prologue that is bespeckled with begats: Matthew 1:1-16. In the passage, Matthew traces the heritage of Jesus beginning with a peripatetic Chaldean named Abraham all the way to Joseph and Mary. It’s tedious to be sure, but it’s by no means insignificant. Christopher J.H. Wright observes:
If the average Christian pauses between carols to wonder what the previous seventeen verses are all about, his or her curiosity is probably offset by relief that at least they weren’t included in the readings! And yet they are there, presumably because that is how Matthew wanted to begin his Gospel, and also how the minds that shaped the order of the canonical books wanted to begin what we call the New Testament. So we need to respect those intentions and ask why it is that Matthew will not allow us to join in the adoration of the Magi until we have ploughed through his tedious list of begettings. Why can’t we just get on with the story?
Because, says Matthew, you won’t understand that story— the one I am about to tell you — unless you see it in the light of a much larger story which goes back for many centuries but leads up to the Jesus you want to know about. And that longer story is the history of the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians came to call the Old Testament. It is the story which Matthew ‘tells’ in the form of a schematized genealogy — the ancestry of the Messiah.
— Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, pp. 1-2
The Matthew who gives us the Magi and the Herod saga didn’t bumble as a storyteller with this wandering introduction. Each name is a keyword for an era, and each name pours into fullness of time that was that night in Bethlehem. Don’t skip it. The nativity didn’t happen in a vacuum, but in a living, vibrant world that had both a past and a future — not unlike our own lives.
At Christmas don’t forget the prologues, both Matthew’s and your own. Begats make the good parts good.