On the first Sunday of Advent this season, my congregation’s sermon text was Matthew 1:1-17. Many of us likely don’t think too often about this passage: It is one of the dreaded genealogies, with hard-to-pronounce names and no storyline (or so it seems). Yet behind the sometimes unfamiliar names this text is jam-packed full of stories—stories of how God worked through the messy lives of women and men. This genealogy is a little different, as it sprinkles in a few mothers in the long line of fathers: Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law, Judah, by pretending to be a prostitute; the Canaanite Rahab who actually was a prostitute; the Moabite Ruth; Uriah’s wife, whom we know as Bathsheba; and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here are these five women, standing out amid all the fathers, with a long back story packed into each of their names.
Matthew 1 is an embarrassing genealogy, embarrassingly glorious in the way God worked in and through these lives.
And so, before the sermon text was read in this particular service, I reminded the congregation of the story of Matthew 1 through a monologue (written by Alison Siewert) from the perspective of Rahab, retelling her story from Joshua 2. In this story Rahab, a woman with little power, no prestige, and no future, was given power and the opportunity to serve God’s people. And she did. Rahab resisted her culture: She saw something within the story of the God of the Israelites that compelled her to fear God and pledge her and her family’s lives on her promise of silence.
The story of Rahab is the story of one woman’s act of resistance. Rahab’s story contrasts greatly to the kinds of stories our culture tells at Christmastime: stories of happiness, of material success, of glitter and glamour. Matthew is clear that the family tree of Jesus was not a symmetrical, pristine fir. It’s knotty (and naughty) and complicated. This was the family Jesus entered, the world Jesus entered, and when we’re honest, it’s the world in which we all live.
It is essential for us to recognize this messiness during the season of Advent, when expectations (personal, familial, and corporate) are high, schedules are packed, and the life we see in those fun Christmas magazines is both aspirational and impossible. But as Christians, it’s important for us to differentiate between Advent and pre-Christmas. Advent isn’t just a Christian word for the days leading up to Christmas. “Prepare the way for the Lord” is not a call to “prepare the living room for decorations” or “prepare our freezer for company.” The other-worldly call of Advent is to a life of resistance to the gods of this age as we wait, with 2,000 years of Christians before us, for Christ to come and finish his new creation.