Advent 4: Who’s In Your Family Tree?
December 18, 2016
There are a couple of things to notice about Jesus’ family tree…
The first thing to notice is that (like all of us),
Jesus had some embarrassing relatives!
There were some horrible kings in his family:
When he was king, Manasseh of Judah,
executed any of God’s prophets who dared disagree with him.
Those who sympathized with the prophets – those who sympathized with God then–
were in constant danger.
Manasseh was such a terrible king
That when he died he wasn’t buried with the other kings in
the city of David – Bethlehem.
Ahaz, whom we also heard about in our Isaiah reading,
was another brutal king.
He made secret alliances with Israel’s enemies
and brought back pagan idolatry and astrology.
It was said Ahaz was so wicked that he even offered to sacrifice his son.
Even the ‘good’ kings in Jesus’ background had their issues.
As we heard, Jesus was related to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah,
David and Solomon.
The Old Testament is filled with stories about
very human these ‘heroes’ of the Bible were:
At times they were arrogant, cowardly, deceptive,
jealous, vengeful, and adulterous.
In Jesus’ time,
your family tree was like your resume.
That’s how you demonstrated that you ought to be respected…
‘You can trust me – I’m the son of so and so!”
And so in stories of great kings they usually fudged the resume a bit –
Made up relatives who weren’t theirs;
And deleted some who didn’t fit the image they were trying to project.
I imagine all of us have some relatives we wouldn’t really talk about
In a job interview!
But here in this passage in Matthew,
as the gospel introduces Jesus,
Matthew seems to say that Jesus wasn’t some king
whose resume was perfect for the job.
Matthew seems to want to say that God
worked with real people who had real issues.
The second thing to note about Jesus’ family tree in Matthew,
Is that Matthew chooses to include some women –
4 women in addition to Jesus’ mother Mary.
He mentions Tamar,
Who was taken by her father-in-law Judah to be a prostitute.
He talks about Rahab, also a prostitute,
and Ruth a foreigner, an outsider, who wasn’t even Jewish.
There’s Bathsheba who commits adultery with David
after which David arranges for her husband’s death.
Four women in this account.
These women are not here because they have
especially good pedigrees.
They and the leaders listed in the genealogy who were their husbands and fathers
remind us again that God uses unlikely people and circumstances
to bring about God’s purposes.
This should give us hope, I think…
About our leaders and about ourselves.
I imagine when most of us sign up for Ancestry.com,
or try to do our own family history research,
we’re really looking for the heroes of the family…
We’re looking for our connection with greatness.
In fact on Ancestry.com’s website,
their advertisement goes something like this:
“Just days after beginning her family history search,” they say,
“Emily discovered a truly legendary ancestor…
She traced her family all the way back to her ten-times great grandmother…
Who just so happened to also be George Washington’s aunt!
Emily found a presidential cousin – who could be hiding in your family tree?”
We all want to discover that we’re related to legendary people
of fame, of courage, of integrity.
It doesn’t usually turn out that way – at least not completely.
The PBS show “Finding Your Roots,”
featured celebrities learning about their family history.
In one episode, the actor Ben Affleck
wanted to know about the roots of his family’s interest in social justice.
When PBS aired the program, however,
as it turns out, pressured by Affleck,
the show didn’t mention one key aspect of his family history.
One of his ancestors was a slave owner.
This narrative didn’t fit with the family history Affleck envisioned,
and he had it suppressed.
It’s too bad…because perhaps by acknowledging
the dark of side of his family history,
Affleck might have discovered t
he true roots of their interest in social justice.
Maybe it wasn’t the fact that his grandmother went to college
when most women of her time didn’t – as he expected.
Maybe she wasn’t the one
who influenced subsequent generations’ interest in social justice.
Maybe it happened far earlier than that –
maybe it was the descendent of a slave owner
Who had the courage to grapple with the shame of his own family history,
repent, and then act for change.
My guess is that our motivation to look for heroes rather than scoundrels
comes from the fact that we know all too well
that there are flaws in our families.
We know there’s adultery, addiction, abuse,
brokenness, and pain very close to home
so we search for someone different.
But those are the very people God chooses.
Over and over agin.
As one of my commentators says,[i]
“God didn’t choose a fairy-tale princess to bear the savior, but rather an unwed peasant girl.
God didn’t choose a political or business success story to name and care for Jesus,
but rather a man with his own doubts and questions
who wanted to do the right thing but needed (an angel to tell him what the right to do) to accomplish it.”
At the close of this passage,
Matthew says that Jesus’ name is Emmanuel – “God with us.”
All this talk about family history tells us that,
“God is really with us.”
“God comes to be with us as we are.
Not as we know we should be, or are trying to be, or have promised to be, or will be some day, but with us as we are now…today…in this moment.”
Perhaps that’s the promise at the heart of this passage –
That just as God came to be with and work through
the many characters in Jesus’ family
who were as flawed as Manasseh and Ahaz,
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba,
Joseph and Mary ..
so also God can come to us in Christ to be with us,
and work through us.
Emmanuel – God with us.
God is really with us just as we are.
Thanks be to God.