Last week, I talked about our strange obsession with holiday traditions and about how some of them, like the Christmas tree, don’t really make a whole lot of sense when you stop to think about it.
Today I want to talk about a Christmas tree that actually makes a whole lot of sense. Matthew 1 outlines the genealogy of Jesus Christ, and you might say, in a sense, that this family tree is the original Christmas tree.
Jesus didn’t materialize out of a vacuum. He was born into a family with cousins and uncles and grandparents and great grand parents. And like every family tree, his had some bad apples.
Now, a quick glance at this chapter reveals something interesting about Jesus’ lineage: only four women are mentioned.
Logic might indicate that more than four women would have surely been necessary to facilitate a wide enough gene pool to maintain a family line through the literally hundreds of years this genealogy covers, but you have to remember that Israelite scholars usually only recorded the direct male-line ancestors–and then only the significant ones. Sometimes entire generations were skipped, and usually all the women.
It’s interesting, then, that Christ has four women in his family tree who were interesting enough to include even when many men weren’t included. What’s intriguing, then, is not how few women are mentioned, but actually how many.
The first woman mentioned is Tamar.
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother’s name was Tamar… (Matthew 1:3)
On this surface, this seems normal enough. Surely Tamar was Judah’s husband, and together they had Perez and Zerah. Nope.
Judah was Tamar’s father-in-law.
Well, now! That’s a little more interesting, isn’t it? The truth is, after Tamar’s husband died, she behaved like a prostitute and had a baby by Judah.
You might say, “Get out of here! That kind of sordidness doesn’t belong in our nativity!”
Well, it kind of does, because it’s what really happened. Ready for the next name?
Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz was the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. (Matthew 1:5)
You may have heard of Rahab. Like Alexander the Great, Rahab has a clarifying title that almost always accompanies her name. You always see her as”Rahab the harlot.” That’s right. We’re only a handful of verses in, and we’ve already hit two seriously misbehaving women.
Next up is Ruth. Ruth was a good woman, but she was from Moab–not a member of God’s Chosen People. In fact, Moabites were often enemies of Israel, and their nation has its origins in an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. So there’s Ruth the moabitess.
There’s one more, but her name is curiously missing.
And to David was born Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.
We know this is Bathsheba, the woman David had an affair with. He later orchestrated the murder of her husband Uriah to cover it up. The story sounds like a soap opera. Adultery, betrayal, murder. It’s all there.
Here’s the point. God isn’t like us. We can’t pick our relatives, but he can. Naturally, you might assume he would pick only the most morally pure and stoutest of heart for his lineage–only the brightest of lights and most fetching of colors. But guess what? He didn’t!
Jesus’ family tree is like any other (maybe even worse)! Do you see what God is saying even in a detail as small as Christ’s genealogy? You don’t have to be perfect to be used by God. No matter what you’ve done, he still has a purpose and plan for your life.
Now that’s what I call a great Christmas tree.