Sermon delivered on the Sunday before the Nativity of Jesus Christ on the genealogy of the Lord found in Matthew 1:1-25.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Around this time of year, on such channels like the History Channel or the Discovery Channel or what not, we might catch so-called “documentaries” about the “real” Jesus.
Some of these documentaries try to prove that Jesus never existed, that He was simply an invention of Christians, by which they mean white European men. And they try to take down Christianity as a system of oppression and patriarchy.
Other documentaries claim that Jesus was just a guy, Who just had a following, Whose preaching spread like wild fire in a dry forest, and conquered the pagan Roman empire … and white men came and used it for oppression and patriarchy.
So today we will do a little myth-busting based on what we just heard from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. To unpack the whole genealogy would take a few hours, and since none of us are in a hurry this Sunday morning …
We’ll look at just a few people mentioned by Saint Matthew. “Judah [was] the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.” A whole story is packed into this one short sentence.
In those days, if a man was married and died before giving his wife a son, his younger brother took her as wife, in hopes of giving her a son who would be considered the son of the older, deceased brother, to carry on the family name and inheritance.
Judah had a son, whom he married to Tamar. But he died childless. Then Judah did the right thing by marrying his younger son Onan to Tamar. Onan, however, did not want to give her a son. On the night of their marital relations, he made sure she would not get pregnant. I will not get into details on how he accomplished this, but let’s just say that the word onanism is named after him.
Because Onan refused to fulfill his responsibilities for his brother, he died, childless. So Judah had two dead sons and zero grandsons to carry on the family name and inheritance. And he considered Tamar to be bad luck, so instead of marrying her to his third son, Judah sent her back to her parents.
Tamar, now, was completely out of luck, twice widowed and childless. It’s not like women could get a job to support themselves in those days. Once her parents died, she was facing homelessness and poverty.
But Tamar did not wallow in her misery for long. She came up with a plan, by disguising herself as a prostitute and staying in a place that Judah walked by frequently. Eventually, Judah basically hired her, without recognizing her at all. And what do you know, she got pregnant!
In time, Judah noticed that Tamar had a little bump, so he dragged her to court, to stone her to death for adultery. During the hearing, Judah asked her, “Tell us, who is the father of the baby?” But Tamar, you see, kept a few of Judah’s belongings after their “meeting” – his walking stick and the ring. So she took those out and said, “The father is the man who owns these things.” (mic drop, as the kids say).
So in Christ’s genealogy, His family tree, we are barely three names in and we get to the son who was born from this situation. Among other ancestors of Christ are Rahab, who was an actual prostitute. Or how about David, a great king, but also a murderer and adulterer. David, already having numerous wives, lusted after Uriah’s wife. Uriah was a soldier in David’s army, so David sent him to death, just to get his wife.
What a family, right? What a family tree!
If Saint Matthew was making up this character by the name of Jesus, or was trying to create a cool background for a regular guy, why would he pick this family tree? Why show weak people who can’t control themselves?
If Matthew was making this up wasn’t he better off actually lying? Checkmate, secular documentaries on Jesus!
But there is one very important question that we need to ask ourselves – what does all of this mean? Our Savior, the Son of God Himself, on the human side of His family tree, comes from a family that had issues, to say the least. So why is it significant, especially for us today?
We would think that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would come from a family with little better roots, than a bunch of prostitutes, murderers, and foreigners. We need to remember, however, why the Son of God became incarnate, the reason for His coming.
It was not to tell us how cool He is, how great His family is, or to love everyone and be in peace. Jesus came to heal the very sinful nature, the human nature that He took upon Himself at the time of conception.
And Saint Matthew is showing us that God is working in and through all the messiness of human history and human life. God isn’t somewhere outside our history, far removed from us. He is working here in this world, with our broken and imperfect selves.
If Saint Matthew and the other evangelists and early Christians were making up Jesus, they would not have used this family tree. They would have come up with something glorious and amazing.
So we now know that Jesus existed, that He is a real historical figure. But how do we know that He is God? Because of what He came to do.
The angel told Joseph, when he was confused about how Mary got pregnant, that the Child “will save His people from their sins.” In fact, that’s what the name “Jesus” means – salvation.
Jesus did not come to conquer, to mobilize His people for war. He came to save us from our sins, from our slavery to the demonic powers that inspire us to sin. He came to perform one great exorcism.
And Saint Matthew is telling us that God is bringing salvation and redemption out of that kind of family tree. God is fully aware of just how messed up we are, and how much worse we can get.
At the time when Christ came, the problem that the people faced wasn’t injustice or oppression or poverty or war. The problem was sin. Sins of each individual person. And those sins led to injustice, oppression, poverty, and war.
We face the same problems today. Our sins bring us down, which shows that we are in need of salvation, we are in need of Jesus, we are in need of the Son of God. Our sins lead to injustice, oppression, poverty, and war. I am the reason those things still exist in the world.
And the fact that God works with the kind of people Saint Matthew writes about should give us great hope. God chose to work with them, so maybe, just maybe He’ll choose to work with us too, since we are not that much better than Judah, Tamar, Rahab, David and the rest.
Salvation of the whole world came about even in and through the people’s flaws, because all of our flaws become corrected when God is willing to work with out brokenness. So we need to be willing to work with God, to let Him work in and through us, to save us from our sins.
Therefore, to the One Who is here to work in and through us, the only Son of God, Jesus Christ, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, we give all glory, honor, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.