As we are in the Advent season, I would like to reflect on Matthew’s Gospel message about the birth of the King Messiah. Many of us often skip the first portion of Matthew as the genealogy is tedious to wade through, yet it has an important and gripping message for us.
Matthew presented Jewish history according to the jubilee numbering system in a series of 14 generations multiplied by three, or six “sevens,” culminating in the birth of Jesus, the seventh seven. During a jubilee year, which was every seven-times-seven years, the Jewish people were supposed to free slaves and to return what had been sold due to economic hardship. When the Messiah came, Jesus became the jubilee message that exile is finished, that wrongs are being righted, that redemption is here. Matthew immediately declares that what we have been waiting for has come, that Israel’s story has come to fruition, and that what God is doing for Israel he is doing for the world.
In Jesus’ time, the Jewish people still saw themselves as being in exile. Even though many Jews lived in the Holy Land and rebuilt the Temple, the Romans occupied the land and controlled many aspects of their lives. They were not truly free. The people, the land, history awaited a jubilee.
When I reflect on this concept of jubilee, several thoughts come to mind, most importantly the idea of time. Jubilee is about a time where certain things need to happen. It is a season we anticipate, we await with expectation. Around the world people are enduring economic hardship, experiencing political trauma and violence, and are struggling in personal relationships. Those who are in misery or oppressed can know it will not be forever. Despair and cynicism do not have the final word. Life will not continue as-is, with the oppressors continuing to rule. There will be a day of reckoning; injustice will come to an end. Jubilee is a time where justice will prevail.
During this time, this jubilee, there is also responsibility that certain things need to happen, that justice, mercy and liberation will be carried out. It is a time where we act, where the land rests, where we enter into the rest and goodness of God. It is a time that teaches us to reflect on the Creator, and to act and work according to his purposes.
As we remember Jesus’ birth in history, let us re-declare the great message that the incarnation brought to the world, which resonates to this day. Jesus ushered in the jubilee of jubilees, an end of our exile from God, a promise of redemption, rest and restoration. We can bring this message to our world – Jesus ushered in God’s jubilee! The message of hope is here, and we can partake in it through believing it, proclaiming it, and acting upon it.
By Salim J. Munayer
Edited by A. Ben-Shmuel