(A) The Christmas Family in Macro: A bunch of the worst sinners, spiritually and socially (v.1-17)
The book of Matthew begins in chapter 1 with a genealogy, acknowledged in the first verse specifically as “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” From the word ‘Genealogy’ and its original usage, we understand that not only is this a listing of the line from which Christ descended, but also a means of identifying the specific type or gene- the nature of the family from which Christ came from.
But how do we read genealogies? Many of us can't wait to skip over a list of foreign and distant names, to the more exciting portions of the Christmas story. In approaching biblical genealogies, we must take care to note the specific patterns as well as deviations from the patterns, as all of the text is put together with specific and deliberate intention.
The genealogy of Christ can be arranged into three major groups, as identified in verse 17- the period from Abraham to David, from David to the period of exile to Babylon, and from exile to Babylon to the birth of Christ. Each of these three periods are identified as having 14 generations. The people mentioned in this genealogy were not all of Jesus' ancestors! In fact, Matthew has specifically chosen some key figures. Hence, we realise that these verses serve not only to identify Christ’s line, but also invite us to note the characteristics of the people who make up his line. The information provided in the genealogy is not complete, and rather stylized, hinting that the chapter does not seek to simply inform or provide factual information, but further seeks to highlight things.
After our series on the Old Testament, many of the names in the genealogy are familiar, individual stories like that of Abraham and Jacob, or even others like David or Solomon stand out to us as men who were part of the promised covenant, who failed as followers of God, all falling short and yet all experiencing the faithfulness of God.
While the pattern of the genealogy invites us to look at the generations of fathers and sons of the covenant, five names deviate from the pattern, all identifying specific women of the line.
- Tamar (v3) -- Tamar was an incestuous woman, living in a time where she would have been stoned for her acts (Gen 38), and yet was a mother of Christ.
- Rahab (v5) -- Rahab was a foreign woman, not an Israelite, yet still a mother of Christ.
- Ruth (v5) -- Not an Israelite but a Moabite, a traditional enemy of Israel, who still became a mother of Christ.
- Bathsheeba (v6) -- Mentioned in the verse simply as “the wife of Uriah”, highlighting the fact that she was a married woman that David wrongfully and forcefully took, making her a mother of Christ.
- Mary (v16) -- Becomes pregnant right before being married to Joseph, causing a scandal. The direct mother of Christ.
All these highlighted women reveal the kind of scandal and shame that characterized Christ’s line, with incest and forced unions, unwanted pregnancy and foreigners who were not seen as part of the covenant promise. What does this show us about the nature, the ‘type’ that Christ is of, and what does that tell us about Christ himself? Knowing the type of scandal and imperfection that characterizes Christ’s genealogy reinforces the truth of it. It exists as no doctored, perfect record but rather the reality of human sin and brokenness. The saviour of the world came through a line of broken people to save broken people. He came to the world to save sinners, not just the vaguely imperfect, but the completely wretched, the scandalous, the needy, the shameful people of the world. This forces us to ask ourselves whether we have understood the kind of sin that we have come from to warrant such a saviour. Have we expected to be lauded for our outward works and public performance? Have we been honest with our sin before God and accepted the kind of sin that we are characterized by, the kind of sin that Christ
came to save us from?
(B) The Christmas Family in Micro: Through Jesus, forgiven sinners are restored to God (v.18-25)
After establishing the genealogy of Christ, Matthew continues in verse 18, placing the story of the birth of Christ in the context of his lineage. The scandal of the women of Christ’s genealogy places Mary in a very similar position, pregnant before having known her husband-to-be Joseph.
Joseph is described as a “just” man, choosing to protect Mary’s name rather than openly shaming her, as he would have had the right to as a man in that cultural context. Joseph is met by an angel in the midst of his distress, as he “considered these things”(v20), and is first met with the direction “do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” In his fear and distress over his supposed future wife being pregnant by another man, his fears are directly addressed and put to rest. After addressing the immediate concerns of Joseph, the angel explains, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”(v21). With this, the angel addresses the greater problem that Joseph stands in, the brokenness not just of his immediate relationship with Mary, but the brokenness of the world. He does not need to fear because the long awaited saviour has come, and as verse 22 outlines, the prophesy of the Lord’s promise being fulfilled, of Immanuel coming to the world through a virgin birth is to be fulfilled. By referring to the prophesy, the angel reveals to Joseph that his own child will be Immanuel, the agent of Jehovah, the child of God, God himself to save his people.
The prophecy says that the people shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. How does that change the way that we understand salvation? The saving from brokenness, the restoration of people is not just an act of fixing broken parts, not restoration of people in themselves, but a bringing back of people into God’s presence. Restoring people to God. In order to bring people back to this intimacy with God, it is God who himself comes down, sending his son in the form of a child, coming to man that man might be brought back to the presence of God, to intimacy with God. So, it is this promised reunion and fellowship with God that the angel speaks into our fear, addressing not only our personal concerns but our fundamental brokenness and separation from God, bringing us a hope that transcends all distress and fear.
As we being our Advent series with a look at the Christmas family, we are reminded that Christ was born into a long line of sinful and broken people, to reach out to a world of sinful and broken people, fulfilling the promise of restoration to God, to perfect fellowship with God through Christ as the ultimate undoing of our brokenness and the fulfillment of God’s word.