Growing up, we had a tradition at Christmas time. My uncle, with a voice that sounds like a mix between Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones, would open his Bible to Luke 2 and read the Christmas story.
Every year, we would read about the angel visiting Mary, and convincing Joseph to trust God. We read about the shepherds, and King Herod. You know the story, you probably read it every year too, but did you know Mary’s angel visitation is not where the Christmas story begins? The Christmas story actually begins in Matthew 1.
I understand why we don’t take the time to read that part of the Christmas story, because honestly, it’s boring. Matthew 1 is just a long list of names; it’s the family tree of Jesus. You’ve probably skipped past it several times before in an attempt to get to “more important” scriptures in the Bible, I have. But this year I have found a new appreciation for the genesis of the Christmas story. Let me explain.
It may seem like a waste of time to you and me for God to spend a whole chapter of the Bible listing names, but it was incredibly important then and remains important now. Historically, it is important because, for Jews who were reading this at the time, Matthew was proving Jesus was the real thing; He was not a fraud that showed up out of nowhere. His roots go all the way back to Abraham and run through King David and King Solomon. For you and me, though, its importance is less about His Jewish roots and more about what we can learn from His relatives who seem more fit for the Jerry Springer show than a royal blood line.
Yes, Jesus’ genealogy started with Abraham, the godfather of faith, but if you keep reading, you find Jesus’ family also includes prostitutes, adulterers, and gentiles. We read the names of Rehoboam and his son Abijah, who were wicked kings. Bathsheba was a married woman who slept with King David, and Rahab was a prostitute who was a Moabite, an enemy of Israel. The family line of Jesus is filled with mighty men of faith, obedient kings, everyday craftsmen, and men and women struggling to stay faithful to God, but regardless of their failures, God still chose to use them to bring about his plan of salvation.
The Christmas story provides hope because it reminds us God is so comfortable with messy people, he chose to let them be family. It’s not as if God’s plans were scrambled and having to improvise He let a few ragtag people in. No, the people who carried the blood of the savior in their DNA were exactly the people God wanted to include- failure, dysfunction and all. The beginning of the Christmas story reminds us God works providentially through everyday people. Even when it appears His promises or plans won’t happen because of our shortcomings or because of unpredictable circumstances, we can trust God is sovereign, and his promises are a sure thing, no matter what.
Take for example Ruth. In verse 5 of Matthew 1 we see her name mentioned with Boaz. In hindsight, it appears to be just another generation of grandparents, but the story is anything but ordinary. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi, had lost her husband and both of her sons to unexpected death. Ten years after moving away from her home she is a widower left with only two daughters-in-law and no grandchildren. It appears the family tree will stop with her. Through a series of God-orchestrated events Ruth “just so happens” to get a job at a farm owned by a man named Boaz, and after falling in love, they marry and have a son named Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David. The story is filled with more crazy twists and turns than I have time to explain, but when it’s all said and done, we see God using the daughter-in-law of a widow living in a foreign city, to lead her to a second marriage, which produces the grandfather of a king. Wow!
When we skim through the first 17 verses of Matthew and read the simple words “Boaz was the father of Jesse” it’s easy to overlook the incredible 80-year journey of faith involved as they played their role in God’s plan for saving mankind. Each and every name listed in verses 1-17 is filled with those kinds of stories; everyday people, who tried their best to be obedient and faithful to God.
Our lives are not listed in the Bible, but the truth is still the same. We serve a sovereign God with sovereign plans for our life all serving his greater purpose. No matter what it feels like right now, or what failures follow us around, we can rest assured knowing His plans involve us but are not fickle enough to depend solely on us. If God chooses to use Rahab and Rehoboam, He can use you too. He is inviting you to add your name to his-story.
This Christmas, as you gather around the tree or a dinner table and read the Christmas story, you probably won’t include Matthew 1, that’s ok, but don’t forget why God wanted you to know Jesus’ relatives names- because He loves messy people. He loves you.
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