My Christmas sermon from Matthew chapter one is entitled: "The genealogy of Jesus — Geesh, would you look at the people God is calling now?" Like the picture of the genealogy on the left shows, genealogies are not simple.
The genealogy in Matthew begins by saying that Abraham was the father of Isaac. Abraham was indeed the father of Isaac. That’s true, of course, but he was the father of Ishmael first, but Ishmael was banished. No mention of him, poor guy.
Then Isaac begets Jacob, which is true and Jacob is mentioned. But wasn’t Esau the older brother? No mention of Esau. Jacob actually stole Esau’s birthright. Now that’s a fine "How do you do."
What’s going on here, friends? … Well, Matthew is certainly faithful to the Old Testament, but we find out that God does not necessarily select the noblest or most deserving person to carry out divine purposes.
Read on. Jacob was the father of Judah. Judah is mentioned in the genealogy, not Joseph, the biblical patriarch who is so heroic. For crying outloud, Judah was the brother who sold Joseph into slavery and yet Judah gets mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.
Five women are mentioned in the Matthew genealogy, but not Sarah, Rebekah or Rachel, the upstanding patriarchal wives of Israel. Tamar is mentioned, though. She was the Canaanite, who disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law Judah to get a son out of him. And Rahab, a real prostitute, is on the list.
Matthew’s genealogy shows very clearly how the story of Jesus Christ contained the flawed and inflicted and insulted. Most of the people on the list we know almost nothing about. Frankly, they were pretty obscure people.
You probably have guessed my point by now. If so much powerful stuff can have been accomplished down through the ages by betrayers, and outcasts, and through those who were such complex mixtures of sinner and saint, isn’t it pretty clear that God will use us in unexpected ways, our flaws and gifts notwithstanding?
During Advent, just remember that Jesus called you — in spite of your weaknesses and family and fears. He called you just like he called the saints of old. … Now you must call someone else.