Genesis 11:10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpach’shad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived after the birth of Arpach’shad five hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 12 When Arpach’shad had lived thirty-five years, he became the father of Shelah; 13 and Arpach’shad lived after the birth of Shelah four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. 14 When Shelah had lived thirty years, he became the father of Eber; 15 and Shelah lived after the birth of Eber four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. 16 When Eber had lived thirty-four years, he became the father of Peleg; 17 and Eber lived after the birth of Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and had other sons and daughters. 18 When Peleg had lived thirty years, he became the father of Re’u; 19 and Peleg lived after the birth of Re’u two hundred and nine years, and had other sons and daughters. 20 When Re’u had lived thirty-two years, he became the father of Serug; 21 and Re’u lived after the birth of Serug two hundred and seven years, and had other sons and daughters. 22 When Serug had lived thirty years, he became the father of Nahor; 23 and Serug lived after the birth of Nahor two hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 24 When Nahor had lived twenty-nine years, he became the father of Terah; 25 and Nahor lived after the birth of Terah a hundred and nineteen years, and had other sons and daughters. 26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sar’ai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.
When we read the genealogy in the Gospel According to St. Matthew (1:1-25) on the Sunday before Christmas, we might be tempted as Christians to say that in that whole list of births, there is only one birth that really matters – the Nativity of Jesus Christ. That narrow thinking would certainly miss the point of the scriptural text. The very reason all those names are preserved in Scripture is to show that all the births mattered, even those of nefarious characters, because they each were an essential birth in the history of humanity that led to the nativity of the Savior. In fact all the births are of the utmost importance as the birth of Christ would not have occurred without this exact history unfolding as it did. Of course in Orthodoxy, though Matthew’s genealogy traces Joseph’s ancestors, it really is the genealogy of Mary the Theotokos which is of genetic and human significance for the incarnate Word of God. All the births in the Scriptural genealogies are thus essential and matter for the salvation of the world. Furthermore in Christian thinking, the birth of every human since the time of Christ also is significant for the life of the world. No human ever conceived is inconsequential to the world, every single human conceived and ever human who is born matters to God and to the people of God.
Genealogies remind us that each of us, every human being is born into a world which already exists, and is born in relationship to other human beings. We are by nature relational beings. Genealogies place each human in the context of humanity; giving each person a history and a place in the social order. They also serve the purpose of reminding us that in biblical terms, as relational beings, we are beings of love (where love is always directed toward the “other” and is not directed toward self interest). The Scriptures testify that God is love (1 John 4:8,16). For Christians this also refers directly to the fact that God is Trinity – a Trinity of Persons who dwell in love and whose relationship with one another is love. For humans true love then is not an emotion but an encounter with God (and in Orthodoxy we always encounter one of the Persons of the Trinity, never God-in-general). God as Trinity is a relational being and we who are created in His image and likeness are created as relational beings, created to be in God’s image, created to love. Genealogies remind us of these truths that we are born into and experience the world through interrelationships with all other human beings, but especially with specific humans, normally our parents and family. We are by our births given context in the world, given a story, given a shared human nature and story.