You probably never heard of Hart Island. It is found a little way off the coast of Long Island. Nobody lives on Hart Island. It is the home, though, of a million bodies—bodies that have been buried there. It’s a place that’s known as a potter’s field. It’s a place meant for the homeless, the stillborn, poor immigrants, poets, and artists who died penniless. It’s a wasteland for the forgotten dead.
But its newest additions are those who have died from the coronavirus. (During the Covid-19 crisis they dug) … a mass grave on Hart Island. All of these bodies are placed in cheap, crate-like coffins, set side-by-side, as backhoes cover them over with dirt. People dying without dignity, dying with disease, being buried, and being buried safely to contain the disease that still resides in their decaying skin.
On Hart Island, in the very middle of the island, there is a large, white cross, with black letters inscribed on the horizontal beam. Those letters read out this way: HE KNOWS US ALL BY NAME.
Remember that the Risen Christ never forgets a name. He remembers. The stainless white cross that stands in the middle of Hart Island stands as the definitive last witness: He knows us all by name.
Can you tell me the full name of your great Grandfather? Take a moment, I’ll wait. Very few can. It’s not that you meant to forget them, but names are hard to remember sometimes.
I go to family reunions, and I am amazed about how many more people there I do not know than I do know. And then I discover they don’t know me.
I googled my name one day and was amazed how many of me there are in the world. It is a standing joke in my family that we produce one politician, one drunk and one preacher each generation. We know how we feel about the drunk and the preacher but we’re not so sure how we feel about the politician.
Considering that there are almost 8 billion people in the world right now, you can see why it is so easy to forget a name or two.
Now think about this. There is no one like you. You are unique. No one has your fingerprint. No one has your DNA. There is no one else like you in your intellect, temperament, and so much more. There never has been and there never will be. So, for at least right now, your name matters.
There are 47 names listed in Christ’s lineage found in the first chapter of Matthew, most unpronounceable. Some are great, some not so great. From paupers to princes, shepherds to slaves, kings to harlots, spanning 21 centuries of human experience, the list ends in a stable on a starlit night with one name that is above every other name.
You see, the first chapter of Matthew is a record of our Lord’s family tree. But understand, this list is not complete, for it does not end with just these ancestors because his family includes his descendants, that’s you and me, and we have been born into his forever family. This list is still being written and it is like the sands of the sea.
The world has an obsession to have their names on the right lists. They want to go to the right schools. They want to work for the right companies. They want to have the right degrees behind their names. They want to hang with the cool people. And they want people to remember who they are.
One of my great uncles took the time to do a genealogy of our family. It was amazing to consider that our great ancestor who came to America was a Scottish mercenary who came to fight the British for 1000 acres of Tory land. Knowing the Scottish as I do, he probably would have fought the British for nothing. But being a good Scotsman, he fought the first battle and claimed his land.
They tell me that I can have my name on the Sons of the American Revolution and my daughter can have her name on the Daughters of the American Revolution. I have never made application for either one. Some asked the question why. It is not that I am not proud of my ancestors, but I am more concerned with my descendants.
I live to make sure that my descendants have their names on the Lamb’s Book of Life.
No other list of names should matter more to you and me than being on that list of names. And no one thinks more of this list of names, then the Lord who added you to that list.
It will be Christmas soon and children like to make lists of the toys they would like to have. People make lists of people they want to invite to their Christmas parties.
Now let me ask you a question, “Where are the toys that the children received last year? And what about the lists that you made for all those gifts you were going to give?”
Like so much else in this life, they are gone and forgotten.
When we read through the list of the ancestors of Jesus Christ in the first chapter of Matthew, we are shocked by the amount of heartbreak, sorrow, misery, and grief that is woven through the fabric of our Lord’s family tree.
We remember the grief of Abraham leaving all he had known to go to a land where he had never been. We remember the grief of letting go of his first born, Ishmael, whom he loved. And we remember the agony of being asked to kill his own son.
And what about King David? He had a son who died as an infant because of David’s own sin. His son Absalom killed his brother Amnon, and if that were not enough to break a father’s heart, Absolom letter revolt against his own father.
But all these names in the family tree of Jesus cannot hold a candle to the grief that will be experienced this Christmas season. The world is a much bigger place now. Almost 8 billion people big.
Untold fathers, mothers, and children will die in the next two weeks. Most of us will grieve for the absence of a loved one who can no longer share Christmas with us.
Perhaps your own heart is heavy this Christmas. Or perhaps you have been misunderstood. Let me tell you, Jesus was not understood either. Only he can say, “I understand.” other.
Jesus understands our grief. Jesus accepts such grief and so should we. Remember for a moment those who used to sit among us but now are gone. It is the way of life.
Behind the lives of all those men in women in the family tree of Jesus, we see grief, but they made it through and so will you. People may not remember you in a generation or two, but God will not forget and He checks His list every day.
If time permitted, we could stop at each of the dozens of names in Christ’s genealogy and speak also of the grace that was in their lives. There are four testimonies of grace tonight that capture my attention. They were all women an in that ancient world where it was unheard of to see women even listed in the history of a family.
The first name is Tamar. Who was she? Let me introduce her. She once dressed as a prostitute, seduced her father-in-law, and had his illegitimate child. She was an ancestor of Jesus.
We also read of Rahab. She was a prostitute and the madam of ancient Jericho. Then there is Ruth. She was a member of a race that began with incest and worshipped pagan gods. Finally, we meet Bathsheba. She lived in adultery with King David.
How did such women find their way into the family tree of Jesus? Only one way: grace! The same way our name got on that list. God’s unmerited favor.
That is the good news about Christmas. Where sin abounds? Grace abounds more. What is the Lord telling us this Christmas? I don’t think he is speaking softly when he says, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; all things have passed away; Behold, all things have become new.
Ryan and Morgan, adopted a child from an orphanage in another country. They’d passed through all the legal processes in that country. Charlie was their son. But right before the day when they were supposed to pick Charlie up from the orphanage, things changed. There were some political upheavals, and the country froze the process. No more children were going to be able to leave the country.
Charlie could not come to Ryan and Morgan. So, they decided to go to him. They flew over from the US and basically camped outside of the orphanage. They spent half their time with their son and the other half lobbying the courts and meeting with government officials, pleading with them to release their son.
After a few weeks Morgan came home, but Ryan stayed. It was at Christmas time. This was not where he wanted to be at Christmas—away from home, far from family. But here was a father who loved his son. Since his son could not come to him, he was going to go to that son, and he was going to fight for that son. There would be more days and weeks of struggle, but, wonderfully, Ryan was eventually able to bring Charlie home.
That Christmas, as Ryan battled corrupt court systems on the other side of the world … he was a picture of the kind of “Eternal Father” that Jesus is for anyone who asks him to be. Jesus went far further for us than Ryan went for his son. He didn’t leave a country of privilege to move to a country of poverty. No, he left the riches of heaven to come to a world of pain. He did all that because he loves us. He did all that because he wants to be with us. He came to us to ensure that we could go to be with him, and it cost him far more than a plane ticket.
Immanuel, I cannot fathom that my name has been upon your lips. I am humbled to know that you have a special name reserved for me in heaven. I long to hear you speak that name to me. This Christmas, I wish to honor your name for me as your gift to me. What a day that will be when I hear it for the first time. I pray all this in your precious name, Jesus Christ. Amen.