This sermon is derived from a sermon in a series by Dr. Reed Lessing.
Advent Midweek 3
Family Life – Extended Families
December 14, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Everyone has a Cousin Eddie in the family. Someone who shows up at Christmas in a beat up RV. Someone who comes unannounced and overstays their welcome. Someone who you hope and pray that the neighbors won’t see. Your immediate family may be Rockwellesque, but every family has a black sheep. Or two. It wouldn’t be a proper family tree without one. Or two.
Extended families are an interesting thing. In your own immediate families, barring a huge falling out, you are all generally of one mind. Most people aren’t terribly ashamed of their closest relations (although that’s not always the case). But as the family tree starts branching out, there are some limbs that you’d rather keep well hidden. It’s that group at the family reunion that makes you blush with embarrassment or flush with anger. They’re not like you at all. But they’re family. You have to love them. Don’t you? Maybe you don’t.
It’s not just the distant twigs on the family tree that can be a cause for embarrassment; if you trace your own branch, you’re likely to find some surprises in your ancestry. Perhaps you have a notorious drunk, or a womanizer, or a woman of the night. Maybe some of your DNA is a product of rape or incest or prostitution. If you trace your ancestry far enough back, you’re bound to find something like that. Or worse.
The more you extend your family, the more embarrassing it gets. These people are related to me. Some of the same stuff that makes up them also makes up me. It’s the kind of thing that messes with my narrative that I’m a basically good, respectable person.
And maybe they say the same thing about you. Maybe you’re their Cousin Eddie, and they’re embarrassed to have you around.
This is something common to every person, and it was also common to Jesus. You can find His family tree in both Matthew and Luke, but it’s Matthew’s genealogy that is the most striking. First of all, he begins with Abraham, and surprisingly counts three sets of fourteen generations to get to Jesus. But it’s not actually fourteen generations, because he leaves out a couple generations included in the Old Testament, and counts one generation twice in order to get his fourteen. So Matthew’s making a theological point (which we covered a couple years ago in Advent), and not an historical point. But the fact that Matthew deliberately leaves people out of Jesus’ family tree makes it all the more striking who he intentionally puts in.
There are four women, which would be surprising enough, but it’s the four women that Matthew chooses that make you raise one eyebrow. The matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah are left out. The first woman to be named in Jesus’ family tree is Tamar. She started off as Judah’s daughter-in-law, but after her first and second husbands died, she took matters into her own hands. She dressed up as a harlot, waited for her father-in-law, and by that illicit encounter produced the next branch of the family tree.
Following Tamar, who only played a harlot, is Rahab, who was a harlot by trade. She was also a Canaanite—a descendent of Canaan who was cursed to be a slave of his brothers. Canaanites are also responsible for the fertility gods Baal and Asherah.
But at least that false religion was about fertility; the Moabites worshipped the god Chemosh, who demanded child sacrifice. And, lo and behold, the next woman to enter Jesus’ genealogy is Ruth, who is called six times in the book of Ruth, “the Moabite.” The purity of Jesus’ lineage is looking less pure all the time.
Finally is the woman who is not even named by Matthew, so scandalous is her story. The wife of Uriah—also known as Bathsheba—is included in the lineage of Jesus, but it’s not by her husband Uriah. It’s by David, the king, that Solomon comes into the family tree. An adulterous and murderous episode surrounds this branch. Perhaps Matthew wants us to think when we hear, “Son of David,” not, “Son of the King,” but, “Son of adulterers.” How would you like those whispers at the family reunion?
But it’s not just the ladies. They’re included to draw attention to the fact that Jesus’ family tree isn’t a list of heroes of the faith. Some of the earlier patriarchs had two wives and a couple mistresses; Solomon had 700 and 300 respectively. You really have to apply yourself to reach that kind of status. And things just got worse. Rehoboam divided the kingdom; Manasseh filled it with blood, according to 2 Kings 21. While Rahab and Ruth gave up their false gods for the true God and for faith in Christ, the latter kings in Jesus’ family tree brought in all the false gods of their wives.
If anyone would blush in embarrassment or flush with anger at His family, it would be Jesus. Even during His life, His extended family thought He had delusions of grandeur and didn’t believe Him (Jn 7:5). With family like this, who needs enemies?
But that’s really the entire point of Jesus’ birth. He was born into a family of sinners, and was eventually put to death by His own relatives. As ashamed as you are of the black sheep in your family tree, there has not yet been a time when they falsely accused you, beat you to within an inch of your life, hoisted you up on a pole, and mocked you until you were dead. But that’s what Jesus’ extended family did to Him.
Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry through three sets of fourteen generations of sinners to arrive at Abraham. Luke, however, traces the genealogy back even further. He shows that Jesus’ family tree is rooted in Adam, the first sinner. His is the most notorious sin and most ruinous scandal, even though his deed was much smaller than his more infamous descendants. He ate what he ought not have eaten, but it wasn’t what went into his mouth that made him unclean. It was what came out. Excuses, lies, self-justification. His was the original sin—the desire to be like God in knowing good and evil. And every generation since has echoed the same sentiments.
Until we come to the Righteous Branch. Instead of justifying Himself, Jesus remained silent. And when His own kinsmen were mocking Him and killing Him and spilling His blood, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
There is one final woman included in Jesus’ family tree. Joseph [was] the husband of Mary, from whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ (Mt 1:16). Every other person in the genealogy, even when the women are included, is said to have been begotten of his father. But here Jesus alone is said to be born of Mary, the Virgin Mother. He is begotten of His Father above by the power of the Holy Spirit, which means His entry into the human race is the beginning of a new family tree.
While the rest of the family tree is withering and dying, this Righteous Branch has become the source of new life. Cut off at the cross, and planted in the ground in the garden, He sprouted again on the third day. And by Baptism, the dead branches of the old family tree are grafted into the new one. Because of the Worded water, your extended family surrounds you, connected by a common faith in the Righteous Branch.
Though Jesus Christ, God Extends His Family To Include You
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard