Matthew 1:1-17

I know this sounds odd, but I distinctly remember being excited about reading the Christmas story when I started seriously reading the Bible at around seven or eight years old. So I flipped my Bible open to Matthew 1 and read:

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat...

You know how you get bored reading something and end up re-reading the same portion over and over because you keep losing your place? That's what happened to me. In all it seemed like it took fourteen generations for me to read those first 17 verses.

(In hindsight I probably shouldn't have been reading the King James Version. I had the NIV, but my KJV Bible was a leather one with gold-flecked pages that I got from church. When you're a kid wanting to do your best at being a Christian, you think those things matter.)

What was Matthew thinking? That's not how you raise the curtain on the story of the Messiah who came to save his people. It was like the Star Wars Episode I opening with a title crawl about the taxation of trade routes. Who cares what tariffs are being leveled at citizens of the Galactic Republic? Give me spaceships and lightsabers!

With hindsight (and numerous religion and seminary classes), I'm able to appreciate a bit more what the writer of Matthew was doing. He was rooting the story of Jesus in the stories of the great figures from Israel's history. This was actually a common move for ancient biographers. Matthew wants to connect Jesus with Abraham and David; he wants to establish his subject's bona fides as Messiah.

The quirk in the genealogy is the women who pop up. The fact that women are mentioned at all during a time in which they were poorly regarded is noteworthy in and of itself. Yet the women mentioned are not the usual suspects. The readers would somewhat understand if Sarah got a shout-out since she was the mother of the country.

Instead there is the prostitute Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. The circumstances surrounding their stories are scandalous (often through little fault of their own). You can imagine editors returning manuscripts to Matthew with red ink and notes saying, "You are completely undermining your point here!"

Yet it is good that those women are in there (it would also be nice if there far more females represented). As Stephenson Humphries-Brooks points out, their inclusion directs us to "look for faithfulness and righteousness to emerge...from the chaotic and questionable fringes." (Mercer Commentary on the New Testament, 946) It is a reminder that God does some of the most amazing work in unexpected places.

The begats, instances of father of, or whatever the translation renders can make for some tedious reading but they are important. Between those many lines and generations, we can remember that the gospel has very deep roots in Israel's history and the story that begins at Christmas was also another one of God's surprises.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing