WELCOME TO OUR ADVENT DEVOTIONAL SERIES!
Read and pray through Matthew, chapter 1:1 – 18.
Introduction | This past Sunday, we began the season of Advent, a time of preparation and reflection within the tradition of the Church for the coming of Christmas. As we wait and expect Jesus to be born anew in our lives, we will be engaging in a devotional series looking at the women in Christ’s lineage. Contrary to how we often tell it, the Christmas story as recorded in the Bible does not begin with a narrative.
After the silent centuries that came after the last pages of Malachi, the final book in the Old Testament, the first pages of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, kicks off with a list – a list of names. “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…” (Matthew 1:1). The Christmas story begins with Jesus’ family tree.
Most of us either don’t know or remember this part of the Christmas story because this is one of those sections of the Bible we tend to skip. At best, we might dutifully scan the genealogy of Jesus. However, we make a mistake if we give this list nothing more than a cursory glance. There’s much more here than we realize.
Genealogies were extremely important in the ancient world. Where, and more significantly, whom you came from, informed everyone else’s understanding of both your identity and your significance. Less concerned than our modern pedigrees with scientific exactness, biblical genealogies sought to establish important points of connection in one’s family line.
Matthew’s list, we might notice, is not all inclusive. Instead, Matthew purposefully organizes his genealogy of Jesus with three sets of fourteen names. His intention is to validate Jesus as the long awaited, long promised Messiah. To do this, Matthew establishes two key aspects of Jesus’ lineage – that he was a descendant of Abraham and that he was from the line of King David.
The very moment humanity fell from grace in Genesis, chapter 3, our Creator promised the seed of a woman would crush the head – would break our bondage to sin, death, and the Devil. Much later, God began to narrow down which woman it would be. The Lord did this when God called and enabled Abraham, who was childless, and Sarah, who was long past her childbearing years, together to bring a child into this world.
Through their offspring, God would build a family into a tribe and then a tribe into a nation in order to bless all the people of the earth. Centuries later, as Israel finally became a nation, the Lord narrowed down even more the family line from whence the Messiah would come. As God put David on the throne, the Lord promised to establish the kingdom of David forever.
Through three sets of fourteen names, forty-one generations in total, Matthew connects significant events in Israel’s history: from Abraham to David; from David to the exile; and from the exile to Jesus. But Matthew communicates much more than this in the genealogy he provides. Maybe we never noticed it before or perhaps we’ve always wondered about the five women Matthew includes in the midst of an otherwise long list of men.
Interestingly, women scarcely ever appear in most ancient Israelite and Jewish genealogies. In the ancient world, a person’s lineage invariably was traced from father to son (or vice versa). For a biblical example of this, look at 1 Chronicles, chapters 1-9 and notice the absence of any mention of women. Matthew is breaking protocol here – in more ways than one.
Matthew, in his inclusion of women in the genealogy of Jesus, could have listed the great matriarchs of the faith – Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel. But he omits the mention of them and chooses instead to include women who, on the surface, would appear to embarrass or taint the family line of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. After all, four of these women, with the exception being Mary, were outsiders, meaning non-Israelites. Even more surprisingly, each of these women, including Mary, ended up having questionable and controversial reputations in the eyes of their various communities.
Over these next few weeks of Advent, we are going to look more closely at each of these women to better understand who they were and why Matthew specifically mentioned them in tracing Jesus’ pedigree as the Messiah. Each Tuesday, I’ll provide an overview and some brief reflection on the life of each of these women. Each Thursday, one of our female staff members will be offering their own personal reflections as to how the life and witness of each woman teaches us about the hope we have in the coming of Christ. Each Saturday a Lectio Divina prayer exercise will be provided to reflect more deeply in the Spirit in terms of each week’s devotional theme and focus.
I hope this series proves to be helpful and inspiring as we prepare to welcome Christ to be born anew into our lives and world.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!