This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. (NIV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
That’s not the gospel text you expected to hear tonight, is it? It isn’t the traditional story of Jesus’ birth, that’s for sure. And many of you might be asking why on earth I would read a boring list of names on Christmas Eve! Well, the short answer is because this list of names gives us some hints about what Jesus is going to be all about. There are some names that might be already familiar, and that you would expect to be in there. Then there are some other names… names of women, names that bring up scandal, names that no earthly king would want in his background. Those are a place to start. So that’s where we’ll start.
First, Israelite society is about as patriarchal as they come. Ancestry is recorded father to son. Women were considered tools in the process. And yet, here, in the space of 42 generations, we have four women listed. It’s astounding, really. And they are not all nice Jewish girls. Tamar is first. Now she is a Jewish woman, but by the end, they weren’t calling her nice. They were calling her shrewd. Her husband died before there were any children. Her father in law did not honor his pledge of support, nor did her brother-in-law provide her with offspring, as they were supposed to do. She had to take matters into her own hands and tricked her father in law into sleeping with her so she could have a child. To cover the evidence he intended to have her burned to death. It is a sordid tale, and it is all right there in Genesis.
The second woman listed is Rahab. She was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. She was one of the few survivors of the city when all the walls fell because she was the only one who was helpful or kind to the scouts who had come in advance to scope out the city. Then there is Ruth. She has her own book of the Bible and she is known for her faithfulness, but she is a foreigner. She is a Moabite, specifically forbidden for Jewish men to marry, but here she is, the great-grandmother of King David himself!
The last woman is not named, but her husband is named. We know she is Bathsheba. Again, not a Jewish woman; presumably a Hittite like her husband Uriah. You may know the story… King David had stayed behind in the city instead of out leading his troops. He saw this beautiful woman and sent for her and took her. Of course she ended up pregnant. Was it rape? Possibly. It was certainly an abuse of power. He was the King. Her husband was in the Army, in the chain of command. It didn’t matter. She ended up pregnant and her husband ended up dead by King David’s order to cover his tracks. Later on, Bathsheba was the mother of King Solomon. This is a train wreck of a Jewish family, but THIS is Jesus’ family tree!
There are other skeletons in Jesus’ closet. Uzziah was a terrible king. He was struck down by God for his arrogance. Then there is Manassah, who was called the worst king ever. Then there are a bunch of names we know nothing about. They are the everyday people that get us from one generation to the next.
If God can use this lot to be the ancestry of the Messiah and bring about the salvation of the world, there is hope for all of us!
And yes, there are some of the people you would expect in the Messiah’s family tree. Abraham is the father of all the Jewish Patriarchs. It was Abraham’s faith rather than his righteousness that separated him out from all the rest. Despite the value of the law in Jewish justice, in Abraham’s day, the Torah, the Law, had not yet been given. It came to Moses many generations later. It is fitting this genealogy starts with Abraham. Jesus will teach us that having faith and being able and willing to live in the SPIRIT of the Law is much more important than following the letter of the law.
Jesus is a spiritual descendant of Abraham. Trusting faith that leads one to live a life of devotion to God and loving service to the neighbor is the bottom line. The other patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, are there of course. Jesus is in good company with these men as his forebears.
Then there’s a break in the list of names to mention the exile in Babylon, a sordid portion of Israel and Judah’s history when the kingdom was lost as a punishment due to the persistent worship of other gods rather than God, the creator and sustainer of all. This is when the Jesse tree (the family tree of King David) was chopped down. This is interesting. The biological records were lost during this time. This is the most obvious signpost telling the readers this is a spiritual genealogy even more than a genetic one. This is reassurance that even when everything in society has broken down, which is what happened during the exile, and sounds very familiar in our day and age, nothing can break God’s claim on us. We can rest assured in God’s continuous ability to use the worst of times to form us into a people created in the image of God.
This is not a genetic genealogy. After all, Jesus’ story is an adoption story, because Jesus was formally adopted by Joseph when Joseph named him. All of these people have been ‘adopted in’ to make the point that Jesus’ ministry and life is firmly planted in the tradition of the Wisdom, the Torah and the Worship life of people of God; the psalms, the prophets and the temple.
For the most part, I figure, if someone is trying to write a convincing story of a potential divine presence in the world, I’m thinking they would put together a pristine family tree, not this mixed bag we actually have before us. I figure they would have all exemplary people in their background. Not so. Jesus had a tarnished family tree, even if there were a few sparkles in it. It gives me hope. There is nothing God cannot redeem. There is no one for whom God doesn’t have a place. There is a place for you in God’s kingdom. The Christ came in the form of a baby born into a poor family, adopted into a spiritually rich background, full of characters and scoundrels. This is where our hope lies… in a God who knows us well and loves us well and understands who we really are… the best and worst in each of us. It is all part of the story. Take a moment and take that in. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
(Brief silence for reflection.)
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.