Come to a deepened awareness of God
- Welcome to this year’s Advent retreat. Any retreat offers the chance to take one step back from the pressing concerns of everyday life, to reflect prayerfully on the current state of your relationships, with God, with the people around you, and with the world in which you live. This season of Advent, during which the Church prepares itself to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas, is a great opportunity to make a retreat of this kind.
- To help and guide our prayer this year, we are taking a list of the ancestors of Jesus recorded at the start of St Matthew’s gospel. As you pray with the material presented here, we hope that you will grow more aware of God at work, preparing through centuries for the birth of his Son. We also hope that, at the same time, you’ll come to a deeper awareness of God at work in your own life.
What time of day is best for you to pray
- We start with some practical hints that might help you if you haven’t made a retreat like this before, or act as reminders if you have. You might like to think of these under three headings: how, when, and what.
- One question to consider as a “how”, is how long you feel that you are able to devote to each session of the retreat. It’s good to decide this in advance, and to try to stick to it. Don’t give up too soon if the prayer seems a little dull, or continue too long if it seems to be going well. The material presented in each of these presentations lasts about 20-25 minutes, but you might want to take more time than this to prepare yourself, or to stay with it afterwards. Just choose a time that you can comfortably fit into your routine.
- Under the heading “where”, you might give some thought to what time of day is best for you to pray – morning, evening, or taking a break in the middle of the day. This might also suggest another question – where will you find it easiest to pray and reflect in this way?
- Finally, under the heading of “what”, ask yourself what you are making this retreat for. What are the gifts and graces you would hope to receive from God during these times of prayer. Make sure that you start the prayer by asking God for these, or for whatever else God wants to give you.
- When you have taken a while to consider these questions, you’ll be ready to begin this prayerful look at the ancestors of Jesus. Before you begin, just become aware of God welcoming you to meet him in this way, and also be conscious of all those others around the world who are praying this retreat alongside you.
God’s plan to send Jesus his Son was being worked out
- In recent years, the idea of tracing your ancestry has caught the public imagination. TV shows follow celebrities as they discover who they’re descended from. Websites help more ordinary people to do the same. Census data takes you so far, but if you want to go further back you have to do the more difficult work of tracing parish registers with their records of births, marriages and deaths. Often there are surprises, as people find relatives from faraway places or with unlikely professions. Most families have a black sheep or two, but people also uncover accounts of lives lived well in difficult circumstances.
- The gospel of Matthew begins with a chapter tracing the ancestry of Jesus back through forty-two generations! He begins with Abraham, a man the Catholic liturgy calls “our father in faith”. It’s clearly a carefully structured presentation, and divides the list into three groups of fourteen. These are interrupted by two of the key events in Jewish religious history, the reign of David, perhaps the greatest of the Jewish kings, and the moment of crisis when the nation’s elite were deported to Babylon. Matthew’s overall aim is to demonstrate how from the earliest moment of the history of Israel, God’s plan to send Jesus his Son was being prepared for and worked out.
- Matthew traces Jesus’ descent through the male line, so the text takes on an almost hypnotic quality. “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah ...” Some of those named are figures well-known to biblical history: Abraham, David, Solomon, and Joseph, “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born”. Others will be familiar only to those with a good knowledge of the Old Testament: Jesse, King David’s father, or Jeconiah, the king deposed and taken into exile in Babylon. A third group are wholly unknown outside of the list that Matthew has drawn up. There are saints and sinners, Jews and the occasional foreigner, and now and then the name of a mother as well as a father.
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
God has been preparing a place for you
- In this retreat we will look at a few of Jesus’ ancestors, and see how their stories can help us to deepen our own faith as we too prepare for the birth of Jesus which we will be celebrating in a few weeks’ time. As we begin the retreat, it might be worth taking some time to consider where your own faith comes from. Is it something that you can trace back to your parents and grandparents, and perhaps beyond them? Or do you think of your faith as something more personal, owing little or nothing to your family and friends? Notice that neither answer here is better than the other. Each of us owes our faith to some other people – even if books brought you to Christianity, you can acknowledge the role of the authors. Yet each of us, too, has ultimately to make a personal decision to be a disciple, and can’t expect anyone else to take such a crucial stand on our behalf.
- Ultimately, what is true of Jesus is also true of you. God has been planning to bring you into being since before the world was formed. All through the generations, God has been preparing a place for you in this world, in some particular place or places, and among particular people. As we look, over the weeks of this retreat, at the way in which God did this for Jesus, we pray that we might become more deeply aware of the wise and providential love by which God calls and shapes each one of us.