Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break: Hope

Scripture:  Matthew 1: 1-17
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
December 3, 2017

We received big news from London this week. Prince Harry is marrying Meghan Markle! Markle is an American. Markle is a divorcee. Markle is an older woman –36. Harry is 33. Markle was raised Catholic. Until 2015, British rules barred members of the line of royal succession from marrying Catholics, as Queen Elizabeth II serves as head of the Anglican Church. But the revised law now allows Markle, who attended a Catholic High School, to marry Prince Harry. And Markle shatters a royal race taboo. Meghan Markle is bi-racial. Her father is white. Her mother is African American. Yes, her mother is a black woman from Compton, I understand. That is, Markle’s mother is from “the wrong side of the tracks”, so to speak. Meghan Markle’s great, great grandfather was a slave. Yes, Prince Harry takes up his mother, Princess Diana’s legacy of pushing the royal boundaries.  Yes, Markle is shattering the royal taboos. This is cause for celebration! This is a story of hope! I will be glued to the tv when the royal wedding takes place – sometime in May.

In our scripture passage this morning, Jesus, too shatters royal taboos as we look at his genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew. The passage that we heard this morning has been referred to as the seventeen most boring verses in the entire Bible. “So and so begat so and so who begat so and so…” Yawn. Stretch. Ho hum. We typically skip over the first 17 verses of Matthew when telling the birth narrative. But I believe that this first Sunday of Advent is the perfect time to explore these 17 verses for within these many “begats” is great hope.

A little background history first. It appears that there were some who were questioning the legitimacy of Jesus. He was not thought of by the religious hierarchy as a legitimate religious leader. He came from Galilee! Nowhere in all of scripture will we find a hit that a messiah would rise from Gailee. He came from the town of Nazareth. “The wrong side of the tracks.” Some asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Others questions, “Is this not the carpenter?” Others asked, “Is this not the son of Mary?’ First, to call an adult Jewish male the son of his mother was a deliberate insult. It implies that the paternity is unknown. It is a charge of being illegitimate. So, Matthew writing to a Jewish audience would want to show the lineage through Abraham, the founding father and through the heir of King David, the greatest king Israel ever knew. Matthew is grounding the Jesus story in the very DNA of Jewish life and history. Yes, Jesus is the messiah, “the hope of the Jews.”

Another reason why this passage is important is because there was another human being in the Mediterranean world who was believed to be the divine Son of God – Caesar Augustus who was the emperor of Rome at the time Jesus was born.  Caesar Augustus through the lineage of Julius Caesar claimed a millennium-old descent from the goddess Venus, daughter of Jupiter.  Matthew is opposing and replacing one Son of God, Caesar Augustus with an alternative Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is a countergenealogy to that of Caesar Augustus. The reign of Caesar Augustus is about domination, violence, and death. The reign of Jesus is about liberation, peace, and life. Matthew is making a political statement. Which reign will we follow? Who is the real Son of God? (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas, pp. 81-96).

But I think that there is one more reason why this genealogy is important. It brings hope through the use of humor! Some years ago I attended a wonderful conference entitled “Humor in the Bible” with the late Doug Adams, a theology professor, who helped me to understand more fully the genealogy of Jesus with cue cards. I would like for us to do this as well, but I need your help. When I hold up a cue card, please respond appropriately. Let’s try it. Cheers. Boo. Applaud. Hiss. Huh? About a third of the characters whom we know nothing about except their names, we say, “Huh?”

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah (CHEERS, APPLAUSE), the son of David (CHEERS), the son of Abraham (APPLAUSE), who pretended Sarah was his sister, let Pharaoh have her, and received many cattle (BOO).

Abraham was the father of Isaac, whose name means laughter (CHEERS); and Isaac was the father of Jacob, who stole his brother’s birthright (HISS); and Jacob the father of Joseph and his brothers, who sold Joseph into slavery (BOO); and Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah (HUH?) by Tamar, who played the prostitute  (BOO) for the sake of justice (CHEER). Perez was the father of Hezron (HUH?) and Hezron the father of Aram (HUH); and Aram the father of Aminadab (HUH) and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, a fine captain of Israel (CHEERS). Nashon was the father of Salmon (HUH?) and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, the prostitute (BOO) who saved God’s people (CHEERS). Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth (CHEERS), the faithful foreigner. Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of King David (CHEERS).

And David was the father of Solomon (APPLAUSE) by the wife of Uriah, whom David had set up to be killed (BOO). Solomon was the father of Reheboam, who was faithful to God through much of his reign (CHEERS) but abandoned God for five years (BOO); and Rehoboam was the father of Abijah who had fourteen wives (CHEERS, BOO). Abijah was the father of Asaph, who abandoned God at the end of his life and died of gangrene of the feet (HISS); and Asaph was the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehosphaphat was the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, whose pride brought his fall (BOO). Uzziah was the father of Jotham, a very good king in very way (CHEERS); and Jotham, the father of Ahaz, a very bad king in every way (BOO); and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, who restored the kingdom to piety and justice (Cheers, Applause). Hezekiah was the father of Mannasseh who ruled as king for fifty-five years (CHEERS) but was evil for all fifty five years (HISS). And Mannasseh was the father of Amos and Amos the father of Josiah and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers were all faithful to God through their lives (CHEERS) and were all deported to Babylon (HUH?).

And after the deportation to Babylon, Jechoniah was father of Salathiel (HUH?) and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, a wise governor chosen by God (CHEERS); and Zerrubbabel the father of Abiud (HUH?) and Abiud the father of Eliakim (HUH) and Eliakim the father of Azpor (HUH) and Azor the father of Sadok (HUH) and Sadok the father of Achim (HUH) and Achim the father of Eliud (HUH) and Eliud the father of Eleazar (HUH) and Eleazar the father of Matthan (HUH) and Matthan the father of Jacob (HUH) and Jacob the father of Joseph (CHEERS), the husband of Mary (APPLAUSE), of whom Jesus was born who is called the Messiah (CHEERS, APPLAUSE).

Within this genealogy, there is much humor and hope. Interestingly, there are four women mentioned in Jesus’s genealogy. In this patriarchal world that was quite unusual. Women were not thought then to be equal partners in the procreation process. In that day no one knew that women produced an egg cell and were biologically co-creators of every baby that was ever been born. Men placed the seeds of life that women simply nurtured in their wombs to maturity. Yet, Matthew includes four women in this genealogy. Scandalous women considered to be unclean or “morally compromised”.

These women have been called the “shady ladies” of Jesus’ ancestry. Tamar was guilty of committing incest – an act that she instigated. Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute. Ruth was a Moabite. According to Deuteronomy, “No Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of God. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of God, because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt.” Still, despite all of that, Ruth, a Moabite woman, is the great grandfather of David. And the fourth woman mentioned is Bathsheba.  Matthew is saying that the line that produced Jesus of Nazareth flowed through the adultery of Bathsheba.

Out of a line that contained shady ladies and some shady males – out of a line that contained incest, prostitution, adultery, scandal, this holy life of God emerged. It is a story of incredible hope! Jesus shatters the royal taboos of a Messiah.

Too often we look at our past, our history, maybe we say that we are from “the wrong side of the tracks”. We limit ourselves, perceive ourselves as small and inadequate. We allow others to define us and we stay confined in a box. But the genealogy of Jesus and the story of Meghan Markle tells a different narrative.

When she was just 12 years old, Meghan had to complete a mandatory census at school. The boxes to indicate ethnicity were labelled white, black, Hispanic or Asian. ‘There I was,’ she has said, ‘my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race, looking down at these boxes. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other – and one half of myself over the other.

“My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. ‘Because that’s how you look, Meghan,’ she said. I put down my pen. Not as an act of defiance, but rather a symptom of my confusion. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, to picture the pit-in-her-belly sadness my mother would feel if she were to find out. So, I didn’t tick a box. I left my identity blank —a question mark, an absolute incomplete — much like how I felt.”

Markle came home from school and told her father what happened and how she was unable to choose which census box to check to define her identity, he said, “If that happens again, you draw your own box.”

It seems that Markle has done just that. She has drawn her own box. May we, too, draw our own box, shatter the taboos that confine us, and embrace the diversity and divinity within. This Advent season may we hear the Author of life and Composer of hope remind us that there is more to our story still to be written, more to our song still to be sung. Amen.