Monday, December 7, 2009

Sermon for Sunday, December 3, 2009 - -Advent 1

Genealogy and Destiny
Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38

Do you have any weirdos in your family? Don’t answer that. Of course you do. Don’t even try to deny it. Maybe you’re the weird one in your family. I think the word family assumes the inclusion of oddballs: the lecherous uncle, the sister speaks Klingon fluently, the cousin no one can figure out.

There are a lot of those on the Braddock side of the family. My father is one of 16 siblings, so there are bound to be a few nonconformists in the extended family. The Braddocks don’t get together much. Funerals are the best occasions for family reunions. And whenever there’s a funeral, I’m usually called in to officiate. On one sad occasion, the youngest of the Braddock 16 passed away. The funeral was held at the funeral home, and the place was packed. Try to picture it. The family is seated. They are all uncomfortable being in this place. They are uneasy at religious gatherings. I’m about to do my thing, when a cousin, a little older than me, starts taking pictures. After all, it is a family reunion. The problem is that the viewfinder on her 35mm camera is cracked. She can’t see through the broken plastic. So she stands up, walks up to me, and asks me to fix her camera. I look at the camera and tell her that she just needs to pry out the broken plastic and she’ll be good to go. And I ask, “Do you have anything in your purse that we can use?” She opens her purse and pulls out a carbon coated steel knife with a 6-inch folding blade and a serrated edge. I make it a habit not to ask about the contents of women’s purses, but I have to make an exception this time. “What are you planning to do with that, gut a fish?” I ask. Without answering, she expertly pries out the plastic, folds the knife, puts it back in her purse, and starts snapping pictures again. As I found out later, my cousin was a Vegas dancer who was on the run from some bad guys. Taking refuge in Connecticut, she kept the knife handy for protection. And camera repair.

Whenever someone says to me, “I have a strange family,” I say, “You mean you have a
family, no need to repeat yourself.” And really we’re all a little weird. And if you don’t think you’re a little weird, that’s a little weird. We might be a little easier on each other if we just admitted it.

Speaking of weird families, I printed out Jesus’ family tree for you to look at. Jesus had a lot of strange folks in his family, too. It’s a little weird, these family trees. Normally we just skip over these genealogies and get right to the Christmas stories. Nothing to look at here, right? Today, as part of our Advent preparation, I want us to look at this family tree and see how weird it is. Let’s savor the oddness. First, the list from Matthew includes the names of five women. First century Palestine was a patriarchal culture. People traced lineage through the male. Luke version of the family tree has no women listed. It just wasn’t done. SO, why did Matthew mention these women? Do you see the names? We see Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah, otherwise known as Bathsheba. Finally, Mary the mother of Jesus. That’s two prostitutes, one adulteress, a seductress, and a pregnant, unmarried teenager. That’s an odd collection.

Tamar appears in the book of Genesis. Tamar had a husband named Er. Er died, leaving Tamar without any children. No children, so security. In Hebrew culture, if a woman is going to be left childless, the next son in that family is supposed to marry her. So Er’s brother Onan married Tamar. He also died without leaving her any children. The father of these men was named Judah. Judah had one son left, and he decided not to give him in marriage to Tamar. The odds were not good with this woman. Insulted, Tamar took matters into her own hands. Disguised as a prostitute, she seduced Judah and became pregnant with twin sons. What’s Tamar doing in Jesus’ genealogy?

How about Rahab? She was a Canaanite prostitute who lived in the city of Jericho. Israel sent spies into the city to prepare for a military invasion. Rahab hid the Jewish spies in her home. Even though she was a woman of ill repute, she became a woman of high repute because she knew who the true God was. She helped those spies and also made sure that her family was safe in the invasion. Why mention her in the family tree?

And what about Ruth? There’s a whole book about her in the Bible. She follows her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, to a foreign land when all of their husbands die. Ruth exemplifies loyalty and dedication. But after following her mother-in-law, Ruth seduces an old rich man named Boaz so that she can secure her resources. She’s an interesting character.

Bathsheba was the adulteress. Actually, she was more of a victim. King David saw her bathing on her rooftop, and he glowed with lust for her. David ordered his generals to put her husband on the front lines of the army. The husband is killed in battle and David then he sleeps with Bathsheba. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child named Solomon. Bathsheba takes a stand and ensures that Solomon will become the next king of Israel.

Here are four unlikely women. Three are involved in some form of sexual immorality. Two are involved in prostitution. One is an adulteress. All four are in the line that leads to Jesus Christ!

The women have something in common. They all had, shall we say, irregular relationships – including Mary. Every one of them has some sort of a tragic background. But it is precisely through these unconventional women that God controlled the family tree of the Messiah.

Another thing makes these women a little weird. Except for Mary, they are all Gentiles. This is no accident. Matthew is trying to tell us a story: The Messiah is not merely King of the Jews. His ancestry points to a connection with all people everywhere. Jesus is for all people. Jesus is for you and me.

There are plenty of other weirdos and oddballs in Jesus’ family tree. The lists are filled with liars, murderers, thieves, crooked politicians, and outcasts: Adam, the first sinner; Noah, the savior of humanity who dies as a disappointed failure; David the adulterer; Solomon with his hundreds of wives; Manasseh the wicked king who reinstated pagan worship in the Jewish Temple and built altars to foreign gods. Not a pretty picture. Not a “clean” family tree. Jesus was born into a long line of sinners. His family is cluttered with real human beings. It makes this story so painfully and lovingly real. Throughout centuries of weird family, Jesus emerges in the most extraordinary way.

These lists of names let us know that Jesus had a background a lot like yours and mine. He called himself “the friend of sinners.” He said he didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He said, “The Son of man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.” Jesus came for insiders as well as outsiders. Anyone can be included in Jesus’ family tree. It does not matter where we come from, what we’ve done, or what we’ve failed to do.

It’s almost Christmastime, and many of us will be traveling home to spend time with our families. Maybe they are coming to your house this year. Some of you don’t feel good about that. You may have family members who embarrass you. You may have family members who have hurt you deeply in the past. Some of them you’ll be glad to see. Some of them you’d rather not see again. Some of them are sleazy. Some are cheaters. Some are liars. Some are filled with anger and bitterness. Some are just plain bizarre. And you wish you didn’t have to do what you’ve got to do—face those family members at Christmastime.

I like to think that Jesus understands how we feel. He has his own family problems. He knows what it is like to have relatives who embarrass you. He knows all about a dysfunctional family situation. Good news! Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Good news, no matter what we do, no matter who we are, no matter where we come from, no matter what weirdos hide in the branches of our family trees, we are all beloved daughters and sons of God. Good news! The worse you are, the better candidate you are for the grace of God. Jesus comes to do what we can never do for ourselves. He comes to reconnect us with the abundant love of God. Look around you. Yes, there’s a lot of dysfunction. There’s a lot of brokenness and a lot of pain. There are a lot of weird people. Good news! These are the one’s Jesus comes to save: Them, and you, and all the members of God’s family.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas, 82-98.
Ray Pritchard, “The Forgotten Chapter of the Christmas Story & the Women in Jesus’ Family Tree”
David A. Renwick, “Jesus’ Genealogy: Your Family Tree”
Jim Keck, The Jesus Genealogy,

1 comment:

Ray said...

Matt, Glad you were able to use my message. Really appreciate your message with its strong emphasis on God's grace. Blessings to you--and Merry Christmas! Ray

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