The 2nd Day of Advent
Matthew 1:1-2,5-6,15-17 (See Matthew 1:1-17 for the full genealogy)
1The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers… 5and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… 15and Matthan the father of Jacob… 16and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
17So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
Most people who have read their Bible through would agree that the most mind-numbing part of the enterprise was wading through the genealogies. Major portions of at least 22 chapters—including the first 17 verses of the New Testament—are dedicated to carefully recording who fathered whom.
Matthew’s birth narrative includes some high drama: an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream; the appearance of the magi, these mysterious visitors from the East; Herod’s slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem; the flight to Egypt… Yet how does he begin? This tedious genealogy!
So what does this family history have to do with Advent?
Actually, quite a lot.
First, our attitude towards genealogies is not universal but simply reflects our own Western cultural bias. A missionary working in the Horn of Africa recounted how reading this very genealogy in Matthew led a Somali man to accept Christ. Among the Somalis, one’s family history going back many generations is very important. For this man, Matthew’s genealogy provided critical credibility to the story of Jesus. The same would have been true for the First Century Jewish community that constituted Matthew’s original target audience. They knew that the Messiah was to be a son of David. For them, this genealogy was crucial to the authenticity of Jesus Christ.
The genealogy is also unusual for a Jewish document of that era because women are included—this in an age when women were viewed as little more than property with a legal status little better than that of a slave. In this passage, five women are mentioned:
- Tamar: (probably a Gentile) who contrived to have sex with her father-in-law (Genesis 38).
- Rahab: a Gentile and a prostitute (Joshua 2).
- Ruth: A Gentile, specifically a Moabite, (see the book of Ruth).
- Bathsheba: An adultress (2 Samuel 11).
- Mary, a poor maiden from Galilee.
A series of morally dubious Gentiles—hardly the background that one would expect for the long-promised Messiah. In the words of NT scholar, Leon Morris: “Matthew is surely saying that the gospel is for all people, not Jews only, and that the gospel is for sinners. It is a sinful world, and Matthew is writing about grace.” [Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 23.]
And yet this is the moment in time that God chose to send our Savior into the world. Jesus’ name is listed among typical, sinful, desperately hopeless human beings.
Questions to Ponder:
- What does the birth of Jesus– into the middle of this broken and sinful lineage–reveal about the heart of God?
- How could you use this point of Jesus’ broken family history to reach someone who doesn’t know Christ?