Jesus & His Drama-Filled Family Tree

Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17

This past year, I signed up for one of the Ancestry services to learn more about my ancestral roots.

Some of it was surprising – I did not know that I had Prince George’s County history, but I did. Several of my family members emigrated to Maryland from England and resided and died and were born here, with the record saying Upper Marlboro.

Some of it was not – for example, way back when – I have an ancestor who is a Baron, which helps me understand why it comes naturally to me to want the finer things in life. I’ve always felt set apart from you common people – and my family tree proved it.

But there are parts of my family tree that little information exists about. You can go back a few generations, but it either becomes confusing or it ends. Sometimes, that is on purpose – there are people in our family histories who we are not proud of, the cousins, uncles and aunts, who we do not talk about because of what they did.

All of us have complicated history. All of us, especially in the history of North America, have family trees full of drama, no matter when we got here. So often, the drama and the stories and the faithful decisions has shaped us in ways we may not even be aware.

And so it is in that mindset that we begin the Gospel of Matthew with Jesus’ genealogy, to understand where he came from.

Jesus’ family tree is mapped out beautifully, even if we aren’t 100% sure of its historical detail. We have three sections of 14 generations each – from Abraham to David, from David to the Exile, and from the Exile to Jesus. But the historical detail is not the point.

The point is that Jesus has royal blood in him – Jesus is of the House of King David, promised to rule for eternity. As Dr. Mitzi Minor points out, there is a political message here – but it will became apart that the political message is more than Jesus is here to overthrow Rome. The bigger point is that Jesus’ story is a culmination of the story of what God was doing in his people over many, many generations, from Abraham to David and now to Jesus.

And like us, Jesus’ family tree is full of drama too.

There are all the familiar names:

Abraham, father of nations, promised by God to have numerous descendants – and the same guy who mistreated his wife, took advantage of his servant, Hagar, and shipped one son of into the desert

We remember King David who was a man after God’s own heart and yet murdered and plotted to steal a woman from one of his soldiers and whose son Solomon, a result of that relationship, took the throne and seized power by murdering his brothers who threatened his power.

We remember King Josaiah who may have compiled the first manuscripts of the Bible that come passed down to us today

And of course, there are names here that little is known about – did they live quiet lives? Did they keep their heads down and survive? Did they not have the money and power their ancestors had because their lives had been uprooted and Jerusalem had been swarmed with enemies during the Exile?

In Jewish families, the family trees were largely routed through the men, the patriarchs of the family. And so what is surprising here is that women appear. And when the women appear, it signifies something incredibly important.

Some of the women – Rahab and Ruth – were foreigners who married into God’s royal family. Rahab may have been a prostitute, saved when the Hebrew people attacked Jericho, and Ruth left her home lands to stay with Naomi, her mother-in-law, and kindled a new family with Boaz. Tamar suffered when her husband, Er, did evil in the sight of God and was killed – but Tamar was promised to carry on the family line but denied time and time again by her husband’s brothers… until she deceived the youngest brother and conceived a child with him. Bathsheba, not mentioned by name, ends up playing a significant part in her son Solomon gaining the throne.

And finally, of course, Mary at the end – Jesus’ mother who would also not disappear once she had given birth but serve as one of Jesus’ followers during his ministry.

Again, this is a tree filled with royalty and filled with drama.

What can we learn from such a genealogy? And what does speak to our New Year focus and our sharing in this season of Christmas?

First, God works in the messy reality of our lives and our own family trees. This is a Christmas message of good news. This is what it means to be present with us, Emmanuel.

Imagine if Jesus had come from a family tree that never experienced a late payment on rent, never had a messy argument, never made a mistake, never skirted with the law, never spent time locked up, never doubted or struggled or felt like an outsider looking in.

Jesus would be unattainable to us. How could we understand him?

Jesus would have been God in flesh, so holy and perfect as to be foreign to us.

But Jesus didn’t come through such a family – Jesus came in a family tree that was filled with as much drama as our own, as much grief, as much risk and change. God did not show up in the goody two shoes of our world but in a human family that could be remarkable and boring and downright dirty.

As we begin this New Year then, I challenge you to this – let’s put aside our pursuit of perfection this year.

There is a narrative in our Christian theology that often replaces God – and it is the pursuit of perfection. That Jesus came that we might have life and life abundant so that we will never mess up or never make mistakes.

My colleague, Rev. Joseph Yoo, did a Tik Tok video where he said, “If Jesus died for you sins, you better sin – otherwise, Jesus died for nothing.”

His point was to make clear that if we read and understand the work of God through Jesus best, Jesus did not come that we might be perfect. Otherwise, God would not need to come at all. Jesus came to save all of us and all the human family. And Jesus came to save even those we don’t like or don’t understand or find ourselves at odds with.

“This genealogy can call to us to ask ourselves if our understanding of salvation is large enough to receive the renewal which God has launched.” – Mitzi Minor

Perhaps our New Year resolution should be to exhibit more grace in all we do – more understanding and compassion for all kinds of families in this world – for all who are suffering – for all who have done wrong – especially ourselves – and share the birth of Jesus as one who came not that we might forever feel less than or unable – but that even in our broken states, God loves us enough to come and walk with us and show us the way to life.

Because God could use a broken and messy family over a period of time to bring about salvation – to shake up the world. God can use our lives and our messy family trees for the same.