I have always enjoyed Christmas. Perhaps it is the bright lights and evergreens. Perhaps it is the child in me. Perhaps it is early memories of when I was a child. We were allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve. The next morning we would open the rest of our gifts and then drive to Grandmas. Here uncles would sympathetically tell us that they hoped we had received everything we wanted for Christmas this year and apologetically try to convince us that they accidentally shot Santa thinking he was a burglar. It is a memory that has become etched into my Christmas memory.
It is likely that many of us have Christmas memories that intersect with family memories. With that in mind, we should not be surprised that Matthew would begin his Christmas story with a family tree. He begins with genealogy. Names and details that remind us that Christmas is deeply rooted in history.
Most of chapter one is just that, genealogy. Biblical genealogy is not an exact history, it is not intended to be. Here we find the shortest possible summary of the history of God’s people. It is filled with phrases like “the father of…”, “whose mother was…”, “of whom was born…” A simple format. A minimum of details in the shape of a family tree. From Abraham to Jesus.
On the surface, genealogy does not reveal the bizarre or scandalous memories of the family. We are met with “Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.” And, “Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.” And “Obed, whose mother was Ruth.” And “Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” And “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.” Genealogy only reports brief details.
For instance, in these passages Matthew does not come right out and say, “Perez and Zerah, whose mother tricked her father in law into sleeping with her” or “Boaz, whose mother was a prostitute.” Or “Obed, whose mother was a pagan gentile” or “Solomon, whose mother was an adulteress.” But a quick look around this family tree reminds us that we do not have the liberty of choosing our family.
But Matthew walks right in to this family history and begins to pull out skeletons. We learn details that we have no business knowing. Intimate details. Matthew goes on to share that Mary was engaged to Joseph. Yet, she “was found with child before they came together.” Yet Joseph, being a righteous man “had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Yet, an angel intervenes “take Mary home as your wife… you are to give him the name Jesus.”
Finally, “all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.” And then the word from the prophet Isaiah. At the very least this passage reminds us that God is able to do what he says He will do. “All this”, a couple is engaged, Mary is unexpectedly pregnant, Joseph considers divorce, an angel intervenes. “All this” from Abraham to David. From David to exile. From exile to the angel’s intervention. “All this” including the scandalous history of this family.
Later in Matthew, we find Jesus approached with a family question. When told his mother and brothers are at the door, he points to his disciples and he replies, “here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” It becomes clear who Jesus considers to be family. Those who do the will of the Father.
How appropriate then that chapter one should end the way it does. Joseph hears the word of the Lord and Joseph does as he is told. Here we find a picture of one of our ancestors who does the will of the Father.
Christmas is a day celebrated by a family that gathers together and does the will of the Father. Next Sunday take a look around you. A quick look around may remind you of Matthew chapter one. A look around may convince you that you don’t have the liberty of choosing your family. Here sit people who have cheated, lied, and hated. People who have been delivered from sin. Celebrate – you are among family.