(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. Some days there will just be a simple thought / tweet, if I can get it into 140 characters; other times a blog post for more coherent thoughts.)
Today’s Bible passage is from Luke Chapter 3, and consists mainly of the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam. I have to confess that I find this passage difficult; as Maggi Dawn says, it’s one we often simply pass over.
I think that if you try to take this completely literally, it leads to several problems. For one, it seems to emphasise the literalness of the early chapters of Genesis, which is a stumbling block to those who understand human evolution and see the Bible as being out-of-date and unscientific. Then there are the discrepancies between this list and the one in Matthew; I’ve never really been convinced by attempts to explain these away. And acknowledging that Luke’s Gospel gives more prominence to women, it is therefore strange that it is Matthew’s list rather than Luke’s that includes Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and even Mary herself.
More positively, what can we learn theologically from this list, and how does it help our Advent reflections? Maggi Dawn suggests a couple of things which I’ll explore briefly.
First, this suggests that salvation is for all people. We are all “descendants of Adam” (i.e. members of the human race), so no-one is left out. It is interesting that Luke places the genealogy after Jesus’ baptism, and that his account of this starts “when all the people were baptized” by John the Baptist. All these people, too, were descendants of Adam, and many of them would have been able to trace their ancestry to some of the people in the list. So as well as salvation being for all, this reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters, or at least cousins to various degrees, however remote: we are one family. Sharing the salvation of God, we therefore need to recognise this and make sure we care for one another.
The second, more intriguing, question is whether salvation would have been necessary if there had been no Fall. A less literal approach might describe this as the (possibly inevitable) consequence of free will; or, as Francis Spufford puts it in ‘Unapologetic’, the “Human Propensity to Fuck Things Up”. It may be hard to imagine a perfect world where this doesn’t happen, and whether this would be compatible with free will. But it’s worth remembering that in the story of Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed a close relationship with God, who would walk in the garden with them, before the Fall. Even a perfect life needs the companionship of God, and if this is what salvation brings for all of us, it is something to rejoice in.