By jsolof on Dec 26, 2004
Each year, on the Sunday before Christmas, the Orthodox Church reads from the first chapter of the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king.
David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.
And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.
Obviously, the first seventeen verses -- the genealogy -- are kind of "dense": your eyes glaze over reading them, my tongue ties trying to sing them in Church! But there's a wonderful message hidden in them, which, if you can discover it, points to the real meaning and power and joy of Christmas.
The key to the message is the women. This is a Hebrew genealogy; it should go from father to son, to son, to son, and so on. Who the mother is, is, genealogically speaking, irrelevant. But there are five women listed among Jesus' ancestors!
1. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar... (v. 3)
2. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab... (v. 5)
3. Boaz begot Obed by Ruth... (v. 5)
4. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah... (v. 6)
Who were these women? Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, the "twelve patriarchs." He promised to marry her to three of his sons (one at a time!), but the first and second were wicked and the Lord killed them before they could give her a child, and Judah was taking his own good time before marrying her to the third, who was still quite young. So she took matters into her own hands, disguised herself as a harlot, and slept with her father-in-law, unbeknownst to him. (He just thought she was any old harlot I guess!) Jesus is descended from Perez, one of the twin sons she bore him. (Genesis 38)
Rahab was a harlot living in Jericho. When Joshua, who was leading the Israelites after Moses' death, sent spies into Jericho to see how he could take the city, she sheltered them, and helped them to escape those who were pursuing them. Because of this, Joshua spared her and her household when he conquered Jericho. Jesus is descended from Boaz, the son she bore Salmon. (Joshua 2)
Ruth was a foreigner, from Moab. She was married to one of the sons of a Hebrew couple, Elimelech and Naomi. When her husband died, rather than return to her own country and people, she decided to remain with Naomi: "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me." Eventually, she was married to Boaz, the son of Salmon and Rahab. Jesus is descended from their son, Obed. (Ruth)
Finally, there's "her that had been the wife of Uriah", Bathsheeba. David saw Bathsheeba from his roof, one night, as she was bathing; he took a fancy to her, and slept with her. He had her husband, Uriah, one of his generals, killed by ordering him into "the forefront of the hottest battle" and commanding his men to abandon him there. David then took Bathsheeba as his wife. Their first son died, God's punishment for David's sins of murder and adultery. Jesus is descended from their second son, Solomon. (2 Samuel 11-12)
Why are these women listed in the genealogy of Christ? Strange enough (genealogically speaking) that women are listed at all -- but these women? And these scandalous unions? What's the message here?
Throughout human history, and in our own lives, we see -- painfully, tragically -- that which is whole, being broken; that which is high and holy, falling. The message here is that in human history, and very specifically, in our own lives, God can and does act to undo this tragedy. He takes what is broken and makes it whole; He takes what is fallen and raises it up! He produces, from this very humble, very "mortal" family tree, one who is capable of giving birth to His immortal Son. For the fifth and final woman in the genealogy is "Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ": Mary, who replied to the Archangel Gabriel, when he had delivered the shocking news of her impending maternity, with these words: "Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word!" Mary, who is the fruit of this family tree, is the proof of God's ability, and His passionate desire!, to make right all the things that have gone wrong. By her free choice and assent, God Himself is born into the world to make it new, whole, and holy once more. By our free choice and assent, the same thing can happen to us, in us. If we are willing, God is able. If we are even willing to consider being willing, it's a start -- and trust me, sometime's it's enough! This is the real meaning and power and joy of Christmas. "Let it be to me according to your word!"
Amen -- Christ is Born! Glorify Him!