Family Ties

Matthew 1.1

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Merry Christmas!

Here we are on the other side of the manger, the presents have been opened, the zooms with family have taken place, and we find ourselves back in worship waiting on a Word from the Lord.

There’s something about this season that can bring out the very best, and the very worst, in us. I’ve stood in enough churches for enough Christmas services to witness the extent of how true that sentence really is. 

It was merely days ago that the children of the church dressed in all the correct costumes and re-created Christmas for us…

But it was also merely days ago that I heard raised voices and arguments out in the church parking lot, disagreements came to the brim at some of our Christmas tables, and long held grudges remain held.

After our 8pm Christmas Eve service, a woman walked up to me who I had never seen before and all she said was, “Thanks for being open tonight. I didn’t want to be alone on Christmas Eve.” And with that she walked out.

Families are complicated.

And perhaps no family was and is more complicated than Jesus’.

The Gospel according to St. John begins with a connection to the cosmos – in the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Gospel according to St. Mark doesn’t even have an introduction and just hits the ground running with the J the B going buck wild out in the wilderness. 

The Gospel according to St. Luke provides some authorial remarks regards the necessity for the transmission of the Gospel in the first place.

And The Gospel according to St. Matthew gets down to earth and puts Jesus’ family tree in the particular context and history of Israel. And the closer you get to earth, the dirtier it all becomes. 

Therefore, for the next ten minutes or so, I’m going to attempt to bring us through the genealogy of the baby born King we were worshipping on Christmas Eve. And, hopefully, you will see that my claim of Jesus’ sordid family history is not made in vain.

We start with good ol’ Abe. Father Abraham! The one with whom the covenant was made. I will be your God and you will be my people, and all that. Through you, the Lord says, generations will be blessed.

And Abraham, in his old age, becomes the father of Isaac.

However, it is the faith of Abraham, a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments, that results in Isaac being nearly murdered by his faithful father. Thanks be to God for the ram in the bushes!

Isaac survives to father Jacob, a devilishly tricky young boy who swindles his way into salvation history by pulling one over on his own aging father.

Incidentally, Jacob was himself duped as well. He wound up sleeping with the wrong bride by mistake and becomes the father of Judah.

And, because families are complicated, Judah accidentally slept with his own daughter-in-law Tamar, who pulled one over on him by dressing up as a harlot (more on that in a moment). And when Judah discovered that his daughter-in-law got knocked up while a lady of the night, he ordered her to be burned at the stake!

He only relented when, of course, he discovered that he, himself, through his midnight machinations fathered the child in her, Perez.

And that’s just the first three verses of the genealogy!

Next we encounter a list of people we know nothing about until we get to Boaz.

The strange new world of the Bible tells us that Boaz was a good and honorable man and his conjugal connections with Ruth, a dirty rotten foreigner outside of the covenant, continue the family line.

Ruth, notably, shows up after Boaz had a few too many ciders on the threshing room floor and, prior to their marriage, uncovers his feet.

If you know what the Bible means…

Anyway, this kind of behavior would’ve been no surprise to Boaz because his mother was Rahab, the harlot who had the sweetest little house on the edge of Jericho, who hid the agents of Joshua, and who, herself, was brought into the family line after a city was massacred.

So Ruth and her Bo-az (get it?) made their life in Bethlehem (ever heard of it?) and they brought Obed into the world, who was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

If you couldn’t tell already, the whole first section of the genealogy is filled with the complicated nature of reproduction.

The next section is filled with violence.

David, after slaying Goliath and playing the harp, after high-tailing it away from King Saul, eventually becomes King. And while King, with all the power it holds, he chanced upon Bathsheba, a woman bathing naked, during some afternoon peeping.

He used the power at his disposal to arrange her husband murder, rapes her, and becomes the father of Solomon, you know, the one with all the wisdom.

The whole story of David is filled to the brim with intrigue and murder.

A lot of murder.

In many ways, David was just a really successful band who, along with the Holy Spirit, brought together a bunch of tribal areas and started a real kingdom.

But, back to the family tree: Solomon’s son Reheboam lost almost all of David’s gain through his insatiable greed. He, according to scripture, encouraged pagan cults and even sacrificed male prostitutes.

The next few names on the list aren’t much to speak us, through at least two of them had some idea about what it meant to be covenanted with the great I Am.

Nevertheless, from Jehosophat through Joram and Ahaziah, it’s quite awful. Should you find yourself with some free time, you can skim through the canon and learn about murdered sons, blood thirsty kinds, assassins, and more!

Perhaps the first Sunday after Christmas isn’t the best time to take a peak behind the curtain of the Holy Family, but it’s all there. All the way up to, and through, the exile.

After the time of being strangers in a strange land, of wrestling between planting roots and getting plucked up, things only get marginally better for this family. But only because most of the next names in Matthew’s genealogy aren’t mentioned anywhere else in scripture.

And finally, finally (!), we make our way down the list until we’re back in the little town of Bethlehem with Joseph who Matthew describes as a just man (which is saying something compared to his ancestors). And who does Joseph brings to the family reunion caused by the emperor’s census? His pregnant virgin fiancé Mary.

No wonder no one wanted to let them stay at their house.

And then, Jesus, son of God and son of Man, light from light eternal, is born in the manger.

That’s it. That’s Jesus’ family tree in all its glory.

So what should we make of it?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Jesus obviously did not belong to the nice clean world of all the worst Hallmark Christmas movies. He did not belong to the reasonable, or honest, or sincere world of decency and that we all too often claim for ourselves today.

Jesus comes from a family of murderers, cheats, cowards, scoundrels, adulterers, and liars.

Jesus comes from people like us, and he came for people like us.

No wonder God had to send his Son into the world; Jesus is the only hope we’ve got. Amen. 

All The Good Verbs!

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Teer Hardy about the readings for the Second Sunday After Christmas [C] (Jeremiah 31.7-14, Psalm 147.12-20, Ephesians 1.3-14, John 1.1-18). Teer is one of the pastors at Mt. Olivet UMC in Arlington, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including Christmas presents, strangers in a strange land, experiential faith, scattering and gathering, strange celebration, new words, Frozone and Frozen, the mystery of salvation, Indiana Jones, universalism, and the incarnation. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: All The Good Verbs!

In The Beginning Was The Verb

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Teer Hardy about the readings for the Second Sunday After Christmas [B] (Jeremiah 31.7-14, Psalm 147.12-20, Ephesians 1.3-14, John 1.1-18). Teer serves at Mt. Olivet UMC in Arlington, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including the proleptic tense, Christmas unicorns, reconciliation, peaceful borders, God’s grammar, feeling the feels in worship, theological adoption, Herbert McCabe, letting in the riff-raff, and reading from the margins. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: In The Beginning Was The Verb