The following is an Advent reflection for the Christmas season. Advent and Lent have been part of the Christmas and Easter seasons for much of church history. For more on Advent, click here.
A few years ago, my sister researched our family tree on my mom’s side of the family and put together her findings in a professionally done book for our relatives. She did a really great job. It was a lot of fun looking through photos and life events of relatives, some I had known and others I had never met. Going through each page added more and more layers of insight into this diverse and interesting group of people I call family.
Jesus’s family tree
You would think that the Jewish Messiah with the titles “son of God” and “Emmanuel” (God with us) being attributed to him might come from a great family lineage of saintly kings and spiritual giants.
According to Matthew and Luke, not so much.
Abraham and Sarah
At the top of the list was Abraham, called the father of the ancient Hebrew people. In Abraham’s life, he managed to lie to two different kings on different occasions in order to save his own life. Because he believed his wife Sarah was extremely gorgeous, he assumed they would kill him and take her for their possession if they knew Sarah was his wife. To solve this dilemma, he claimed she was his sister.
Both kings spared Abraham but still took Sarah to be their own. One of those kings, the story indicates, was very likely intimate with her without Abraham putting up any fight to protect her (granted they may have killed him, but still).
Not only this, but at the age of 100, God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son and that through their lineage, nations and kings would eventually be birthed.
And their response?
They laughed. In front of God.
These are the spiritual giants of Christians and Jews alike.
Regardless of how you interpret what the New Testament author of Hebrews later says in chapter 11 of that letter, there was a time in Abraham and Sarah’s life when they did not believe what God said.
Scroll down the list just a bit in Matthew and Luke’s genealogy, we find the immortalized king David (by the time of the 1st century). David was famously known as “a man after God’s own heart.” He was the one who, as a teenager, killed the nine feet tall giant Goliath with a single stone which paved the way for freedom from Philistine oppression of the Hebrews.
David was also the guy known for spending hours and hours of singing praises to God and worshipping with his instrument, as recorded by many of the Psalms. And in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, God promised David that his descendants would not cease to have a king on the throne.
But something terrible happened in the middle of his life. David cheated on his wife and slept with the wife of one of his most honorable and valiant military men, Uriah, then covered it up by having him killed in battle.
Why is it so important that Matthew and Luke would include these names in Jesus’s family tree?
Two reasons. One is that it shows us Jesus was Jewish, having descended from the lineage of ancient Israel with Abraham as one who represented Israel from the time of their beginnings. Second, it shows us that Jesus descended from the royal line of King David, which calls to mind the earlier promise God had made that David would always have a descendant on his throne.
A third likely reason is to show the reader that within the family tree of Jesus were very imperfect people. While some might suppose Jesus’s ancestry would be a bit more angelic and saintly. It isn’t.
For me, this is not an obstacle but a blessing.
Because the God that Matthew and Luke’s Gospels tell us about, the God Jesus came to reveal, seems to be perfectly good with loving and working with very imperfect people, no matter what their family tree looks like. If this is true of Jesus’s family tree of imperfect people, we have hope that this is true for ours as well.
God seems to like, even love, using (in the positive sense) and working with people like us, very normal, very human, imperfect people. God doesn’t leave us in our mess by any means, but works with us to find deeper wholeness, healing and transformation. This doesn’t excuse our wrong behavior, nor does it mean there aren’t consequences for choices we’ve made (including the Biblical characters themselves).
It simply means that God is a good gracious God and that God’s love and mercy is greater than our imperfections.
That, to me, is good news. And good news for my family tree…a tree that’s been filled with broken imperfect people who God has been gracious to.
And it’s true for you and your family tree too.