In the first episode of the twentieth season of TheSimpsons, Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17) finally makes prime time. Ned Flanders, the Simpsons’ good-hearted evangelical-ish neighbor, tries to redeem the time by reciting the New Testament while he and Homer stand stuck in concrete. As Ned launches into the genealogy on the opening page of the New Testament, viewers are expected to cringe at the prospect of a lengthy genealogical recitation.
Many contemporary Christian readers will either read the genealogy during Advent this December or as they start a Bible reading plan on January 1. I suspect that most of us aren’t that different from The Simpsons’ audience. We can scarcely wait to finish the genealogy to get to “the good stuff.” Of course, Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus turns out to be much more interesting than we suspect, but the feeling that we’re still “waiting for the good stuff” is an ironically appropriate response to reading through Jesus’ family tree.
Waiting to Arrive
From time to time, Christians take to the airwaves and bulletin boards to tell us that Jesus’s return is right around the corner. Churches or movements find themselves captivated by a vision of some grand new season or some fresh work that the Holy Spirit is about to produce. There’s a tendency to flock to ministries that seem to have it made. We dream about what God might do for us or through us if we could only touch the hem of a ministry’s robe. But these seasons seem to pass without a sense of arrival. It can make the rest of us feel like we haven’t quite made it yet, like we’re not really firing on all cylinders or ticking all the boxes.
This feeling that we’re trapped in the mundane and “waiting to arrive” also tends to feature in our individual lives, particularly as we plan resolutions for the advent of a new year. Laudable goals will often only ever be halfway attained. We lose ten pounds, but not the thirty we’d hoped. We decide to read the Bible daily, but get stuck in Leviticus somewhere around spring break. We cut the cord to spend more time with family, only to discover that Netflix is actually more entertaining than assisting with math homework.
Trained by American secular testimonies to “follow our heart” and “pursue our dreams,” we wallow in vocational and marital discontent, waiting to arrive at the place where all our hopes and expectations are fulfilled. We go through dry spells. In January of this past year, the cover of Oprah Winfrey’s O: The Oprah Magazine promised that it was the “Year of You”; but for many of us that promise never materialized.
To make matters worse, many of our measuring sticks don’t do us any favors. We’re made to feel that if our quiet times aren’t long enough or if they fail to reach some spiritually exciting level, we’re not going to be equipped for a day—much less a life—lived in the Spirit. These measuring sticks imply that the reason we’ve not “made it” (whether in personal happiness, relationships, or spiritual success) is our own failure to “arrive.” We’re left to focus on ourselves and what we do to the exclusion of what God has accomplished in Jesus. At their worst, they teach us an Americanized version of self-help: that we could “arrive” if we only ticked one more spiritual box, attended one more seminar, or extended our quiet time by another fifteen minutes.