What to do for Christmas gifts this year? My wife and I have talked about giving each other one of the genealogy tests. You know the ones they advertise on TV. You swab a little flesh off the inside of your mouth, mail it off, and two weeks later they send you a report of your DNA. Supposedly it reveals a pattern of your own ancestry.
Human being are meaning seeking creatures, and one of the ways we seek meaning is by looking backwards. We look to our past to understand our present, which gives us glimpses of where we might be headed. Perhaps that is part of the reason that Matthew was so keen to include that genealogy of Jesus. Not exactly the most riveting way to start the greatest story ever told.
The family tree of Jesus Christ, David’s son, Abraham’s son:
Abraham had Isaac,
Isaac had Jacob,
Jacob had Judah and his brothers,
Judah had Perez and Zerah (the mother was Tamar),
Perez had Hezron,
Hezron had Aram,
Aram had Amminadab,
Amminadab had Nahshon,
Nahshon had Salmon,
Salmon had Boaz (his mother was Rahab),
Boaz had Obed (Ruth was the mother),
Obed had Jesse,
Jesse had David,
and David became king. David had Solomon (Uriah’s wife was the mother),
Solomon had Rehoboam, Matthew 1:1-11a (The Message)
The story of Jesus birth has a deeply profound message. Namely, that God shows up in the darkest moments, God shows up in the times when you think God isn’t there, God shows up in the people you think “no way.” So, what’s the deal with all this ancestry work here?
The Christmas story is not just about pedigree, or is it? Look at some of those characters in the genealogy. I’ll pick a few of the less well known. Notice the reference to Tamar and Judah. You can read about it in Genesis chapter 38. What you’ll discover is not exactly the most noble of behavior. Then there is Ruth, a foreigner, yes an immigrant. She is someone not from one of the tribes of Israel. Hmmmm, what does that tell us? Then there is David and Solomon, and you may recall their story. The mixture of exemplary leadership, and self absorbed narcissism.
If a genealogy tells you about yourself, what does this genealogy tell us about Jesus Christ, the divine embodiment in human form? What does it tell us about the nature of God? Among other things, it suggests God is not particularly focused on purity. God is more interested in showing up in the ordinary and the unexpected. God shows up in immigrants. God shows up in people whom we might deem less than noble.
The story of Christmas has historically been presented too simplistically. In recent times, the commonly held narrative was this: “Humanity has a problem that needs to be solved, so lets send Jesus to redeem it.” Instead, I’m wondering if the story of Christmas is more about a reality needing to be expressed: “Humanity is complex, often bewildered, wandering without purpose or connection, let’s enter into life to remind them that God is in their midst.”
Once again the message seems to be: “God shows up in the darkest moments, God shows up in the times when you think God isn’t there, God shows up in the people you think ‘no way.’”
When our DNA results arrive in the mail I wonder what it will reveal of our past. We might be surprised. I’m guessing we will also realize how God shows up in our past and the present. Maybe we’ll get a glimpse of how God is pointing us into the future, as well. One way or another, God shows in our midst.
Image above: Nativity, He Qi, ink and gouache on rice paper. See his website here