An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Here we are on the other side of the manger, the presents have been opened, the zooms with families have taken place, and we find ourselves back in worship waiting on a Word from the Lord.
There’s something about this season that tends to bring out the very best, and the very worst, in families whether or not we are in a pandemic.
In some homes, Christmastide is the blessed opportunity to be together, to rejoice in the past, present, and future of the people we are connected to. And, in other homes, Christmastide is when everyone waits anxiously for the inevitability of all the old arguments bubbling to the surface.
I can remember one particular Christmas Eve when, after the service ended, an extended family made their way up to the altar to take that perfect holiday photo with two adult brothers flanking either end of the framing with their respective families.
They hadn’t talked in 10 years but they never failed to have their families together for a picture.
Families are complicated.
And perhaps no family was and is more complicated than Jesus’.
The Gospel according to John begins with a connection to the cosmos – in the beginning was the Word.
The Gospel according to Mark doesn’t even have an introduction and just hits the ground running with J the B out in the wilderness.
The Gospel according to Luke gives us some authorial remarks regarding the necessity for the transmission of the Good News.
The Gospel according to Matthew gets down to earth and puts the family of Jesus in the particular context and the history of Israel. And the closer you get down to earth, the earthier it all becomes.
So, for the next 10 or so minutes, I’m going to try and 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 in vain.
We begin with Abraham. We start with good ol’ Abe because everything that follows hangs on him and his faith. He is the one in whom and with whom God makes the covenant, in him the promise of blessed generations begins. Finally, near the end of his days when he was good and old, Abraham becomes the father of Isaac.
And yet, the faith of Abraham, a staple in both the Old and New Testaments, meant that, while Isaac was still a boy he nearly had his life ended by his faithful father. Nevertheless, he survived to father Jacob, a devious trickster of a kid who solidified his position in salvation history by lying and swindling his aging father.
Incidentally, Jacob was himself duped as well. He wound up sleeping with the wrong bride by mistake, and became 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 them in a moment). When Judah discovered that his daughter-in-law got knocked up while a lady of the night he order her burned at the stake. He only relented when, of course, he discovered that he, himself, fathered the child in her, Perez.
And that’s just the first few generations.
Next follows a list of people we know nothing about until we get to Boaz.
Scripture tells us that Boaz was a good and honorable man and his conjugal connections with Ruth continue the family line. Notably, Ruth shows up at Boaz’s house late one night, prior to marriage, and uncovers his feet.
If you know what the Bible means.
And this kind of behavior should not have been surprising 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 was brought into the people Israel after the city of massacred.
Anyway, Ruth and her Bo-az (get it?) made life in Bethlehem, the little town of bread, and part of their story (at least scripturally) often shows up as a preferred text in wedding services. You know, the whole “where you go I will go, your people will be my people” bit.
I wonder how many couples who hear those words at the altar know the other parts of the story…
But back to the family – what seems to be important for Matthew’s recollection of the genealogy is that Ruth, a pagan foreigner, felt compelled to do whatever it took to carry on the family line, a line that led to David and eventually to Jesus.
Ruth gave birth to Obed, who was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
If you couldn’t tell, the first section of the genealogy focuses heavily on reproduction and the ways in which reproduction gets messy.
The next section centers around violence.
King Dave, after all the battles and all the victories, chanced upon a naked bathing woman during some afternoon peeping. He used the power at his disposal to arrange her husband’s murder, raped her, and became the father of Solomon, the one with all the wisdom.
The whole story of David is full to the brim with intrigue and murder.
A lot of murder.
In many ways, David was simply a very successful bandit who, along with the Holy Spirit, brought together a bunch of tribes and started a real kingdom.
However, Solomon’s son Rehoboam lost almost all of David’s gain through insatiable greed. He, according to the strange new world of the Bible, encouraged pagan cults and even sacred male prostitutes.
The next few names int he genealogical record aren’t much to speak of, though at least two of them had some idea about what it meant to be covenanted with the great IAM.
Nevertheless, from Jehosophat through Joram and Ahaziah, its quite the sordid affair. Should you find some extra time on your hands, you can skim through the canon and learn about murdered sons, blood thirsty kings, assassins, and so on.
Perhaps the first Sunday after Christmas isn’t the best opportunity to take a peak behind the curtain of God’s Holy Word, but it’s all there. All the way up to, and through, the exile.
After the period of being strangers in a strange land, of wrestling between planting roots and getting plucked up, things only get marginally better for the holiest of families. But only because most of the names in Matthew’s genealogy aren’t mentioned anywhere else in scripture.
And finally, FINALLY, we make our way all the way down until we encounter the little town of Bethlehem with Joseph who Matthews describes as a just man (which must be saying something in comparison with his ancestors). And who does Joseph bring to the family village? His pregnant virgin fiancé Mary.
That’s Jesus’ family tree, in all its glory.
What should we make of it?
Well, not to put too fine a point on things, 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 that we all too often claim for ourselves today.
Jesus belonged to a family of murderers, cheats, cowards, scoundrels, adulterers, and liars.
Jesus belonged to 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.