Friday, December 02, 2011

Redeeming a Shame-filled Heritage

It is not unusual to find that the genealogy of Jesus is skimmed over at Christmas time. We are eager to get to the miraculous conception and the baby in the manger, and we hurry through all those difficult names and messy, sin-filled lives. We consider those men sort of insignificant - extras in the cast of a wonderful story. Personally, I love to linger over those names as I prepare for the Christmas story. I've always loved the thought that the people mentioned were real live breathing people, with jobs and families, feelings and dreams. Some of them I know well, because chapters of scripture are written about them, but some are mysterious, and I wonder what their lives were like. For years I've  wondered with amazement at the women mentioned in Jesus' genealogy - Tamar who seduced her father-in-law to have a child, Rahab the Jericho harlot who saved the Israelite spies, Ruth the Moabitess who loyally served her Jewish mother-in-law, and Bathsheba who committed adultery with a king. None of them are actually women that Jewish law and tradition would have considered upright and praiseworthy, but each, in her brokenness and sin, was made worthy because God chose them to be a part of His own Son's earthly story.

Then it hit me this morning. One of the first sacrifices Jesus made for us was to identify with a heritage of people who had messy, complicated, and very sinful lives. It wasn't just the women who were "disreputable" in some way, it was ALL of the people mentioned. Idolaters, adulterers, murderers, liars, cheaters, cowards, thieves … the list goes on and on. Even though some of the men mentioned were considered righteous by God, even those men committed some pretty awful sins. These were the men that the holy, righteous, good Son of God identified Himself with. He set aside His very identity as the only Son of God, and exchanged it for a genealogy of men and women who were known for their shortcomings, weaknesses, and sins. That horrifies me … and at the same time I find great comfort in it. To think of the burden Jesus bore at being related to such people almost embarrasses me. But then I realize that it is because of this that I can understand and accept His willingness to identify Himself with me. It fills me with awe that God is able to use even MY weak, broken, sinful life to bring about great things, because He has used lives like mine for generations past to bring about the full revelation of Himself in His Son.

There is great comfort for me in this list of men and women. As I look at this long list of names and see among them men who failed as fathers, I realize that God can bring about good for and from our children, even when we fail. As I see men and women marked through generations for their sins I realize God can use sinners like me. As I pick out names of no ones, I see that God is able to use simple, unremarkable people for great glory and blessing. God brings good out of failure and sin. God brings blessing to those who don't deserve it. God uses the weak and broken to show His strength. That is the whole message in the Christmas story.

There is one more surprise in this "boring list of names." We live in a world where families are divided and filled with disputes and dissension. In broken families husbands and wives fight, control over children is argued over, and children are left trying to figure out how to put together a genealogy of parents, step-parents, half-siblings, live-in boyfriends or girlfriends, etc. Joseph had no actual claim to the paternity of Jesus, and he knew it. And yet here in Matthew God does not dispute Joseph's lineage in the story of His Son, but proclaims it. God used the illegitimate relationship of Joseph to fulfill His very true and legitimate prophecies of His Son's genealogy. It makes sense. None of us are really "legitimate" children of God; we are all adopted. We are only made legitimate by God's One and Only Son. The only One who could claim His true paternity was of God was Jesus, yet instead of clinging to this identity and keeping it for Himself, He shared it. Isn't sharing Jesus and opening up our homes - our families - one of the best gifts we can give to those who don't have Him?

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