A Very Merry Dysfunctional Family Christmas.
Good morning church!
Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. As you just saw from the video, we’re kicking off a new sermon series for Christmas called “A very Merry Dysfunctional Family Christmas”. This time of year we usually get a chance to see a lot more of our extended family than usual. For some of you that is exciting and for some of you it’s well…interesting to say the least.
How many of you guys send Family Christmas Cards? What’s funny is that it seems like Christmas cards don’t accurately portray real life. Sometimes pictures can lie and make life look a little too perfect. You know how you can take a picture on your phone and then crop out the stuff you don’t want in it, or you can delete the bad ones. So I decided to google Family Christmas photos and google suggested something called “awkward Christmas family photos.” Bingo, now here was some pictures that showed that life is strange, awkward and far from perfect.
Here’s a couple of my favorites. JOY! With two kids crying. Or this one in honor of the upcoming Star Wars release. But probably the one that caught me by surprise the most was this one. Someone put a sticker over the face of a young lady in the picture with the initials TBD written on it. To Be Determined. They labeled this young lady TBD because they just weren’t sure about her yet.
I think if we’re all honest, there are some people in our family tree that we’re just not sure about either.
Families are an amazing gift from God and he designed us to be part of a family. That includes his spiritual family the Church. But families are also a place where we see our brokenness up close and personal. We are imperfect people doing life with imperfect people. And as imperfect people we tend to label people. We stick a sticker on them in our mind like the TBD sticker. It makes it easier to deal with the difficult people and situations in our families.
When I think about myself there are a couple labels that come to mind. Some of them are what I think about me. Some of them are ones I have heard said about me. Here’s a few. The overachiever. The artist. The people pleaser. The divorced one. Oh! Didn’t see that one coming did you?
It’s true of all of us isn’t it? We all have labels that we walk around with right? Some of them we give ourselves and some of them are given to us. Some of them make us feel great and some of them make us feel pretty awful. Maybe you’ve been labeled by your sexual decisions? Or Your intelligence? Or Your ethnicity? Or your Political leanings? Or your physical appearance? Or your addictions?
I’m thankful that God hasn’t left us alone to try and figure out how we see ourselves and each other. He’s given us some clues in his Word that are incredibly practical to consider this Christmas.
If you have your bible with you this morning go ahead and turn to Matthew Chapter 1.
In the book of Matthew we see in the very first chapter a long list of peoples names. What may initially look like an irrelevant part of scripture with lots of hard names to say is actually like a photo album. For the Jewish people that first read this list, it would have triggered in their memory vivid images of the heroes of their people. Many of the names they had heard stories about since they had been born. These names would have reminded them of both great and awful stories about the people involved. Some of the names they were proud of and some of them not so much.
Matthew intentionally put this list together to show what Jesus Christ’s own family looked like. This Christmas we’re going to see that Jesus own family tree was less than perfect. In fact, it had a pretty extensive list of dysfunction. So I’m going to read this passage out loud quickly and confidently so you won’t know if I’m mispronouncing any of these hard names.
1 This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, 7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah,
11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. 12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud,
15 Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob,
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
I don’t know whether or not any of these names rang a bell for you but over the next couple of weeks we’re going to unpack some of the stories associated with them. This week we’re going to look at the women that we just mentioned.
What you may or may not know is that that the original hearers would have been pretty shocked to hear any women’s names listed at all. In their culture, inheritance and family lines were determined only through the male line. So right off the bat we have something very unusual happening by even mentioning the names of these five women. So let’s take a look at the family Christmas tree and learn about these ladies shall we?
Tamar- The “Problem”
The first woman named in the family tree of Jesus is Tamar.
Tamar was a Canaanite woman married to a man named Er, who was the son of Judah. Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. That makes Tamar Judah’s daughter in law.
The bible doesn’t say what Er did but it does say that he was “wicked in the Lord’s sight” and that the Lord “put him to death”. In those days women who had lost their husbands could end up in poverty and other horrible circumstances and especially if they had no son to pass on their families inheritance to. So it was the duty of the next eldest brother to marry his brothers widow and care for her and try to provide a son for his brother’s family.
In Onan’s mind he had a problem and that problems name was Tamar.
Onan marries Tamar but wanted to keep his brother’s inheritance for himself. If Tamar bore a son his dead brothers inheritance would go to him instead. So during intimate times with Tamar he would practice a form of primitive birth control. God saw this as wicked and struck Onan dead as well.
Now Tamar became Judah’s problem”.
At this point Judah only has one son left named Shelah. Judah only had one son to pass on his own family name and inheritance to and was very afraid that Shelah would die as well if he married Tamar.
Judah comes up with a plan. He tells Tamar to go back to her Dad and wait till Shelah got a little older. Judah had no intention of marrying off Shelah to Tamar. After a while Tamar realizes that Judah has tried to forget about her and by doing so she might be doomed to life as a helpless widow.
Faced with a sinful situation, Tamar makes a tough decision. After Judah’s own wife dies he heads out of town on a business. When Tamar hears this, she takes off the clothes that identify her as a widow and dresses up like a prostitute. This includes wearing clothing that would hide her face. When Judah sees her, he decides that he’s going to pay her for her services except that he has no money. Tamar tells him to leave his signature ring that he used for business and his staff that was probably a sign of being the leader of his clan. She says he can have them back when he brings money later.
Judah agrees and spends the night with Tamar and then goes on his merry way not realizing what just happened. Then one day he finds out that Tamar is pregnant. When Judah hears this, he thinks to himself “problem solved.” “This is my chance to get rid of her finally.” He responds “bring her out and let’s burn her.” But before he can carry out his plan she brings out Judah’s ring and staff and exposes Judah as the father. Sounds a little bit like a Jerry Springer episode doesn’t it. This seems strange to us but Judah’s eventual response was of acknowledging his own wickedness in trying to cast off a poor widow that what she had done was “righteous”. So right off the bat we have story about incest and sexual trickery. Imagine how the average Jew felt about hearing that this person was part of Jesus’s family tree.
Rahab- The “Prostitute”
Let’s go on to the next name in the list. Rahab.
If Tamar raised a few eyebrows then Rahab probably would have brought a gasp of horror.
After Moses died, God’s people were finally about to enter the promised land but had to deal with a major fortress city called Jericho. Joshua sent a couple spies into the city to gather information before they waged war. The spies enter Jericho and strangely enough decide to hide out in the local prostitute’s house. That house just happens to be Rahab’s. Someone spots these guys and tells the king where they are and he immediately sends his guards to go get them. Rahab’s life very well may have been in danger when she decided to house the spies but continues to put her own life at stake by hiding them. She lies to the guards and then sends them on a wild goose chase that lasted a couple days. After she’s sure that the men are safe she goes to them and tells them why she has helped them out.
She says in verse 2:9-11 “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
The people of Jericho had heard about these Hebrews and what God had done to Egypt and their other enemies and they were terrified. She says that “your God, he is God in the heavens and on the earth” and she’s asking them to spare her and her family.
Rahab is showing a great deal of faith here. She has essentially committed treason by lying and hiding these spies. Her only hope is that God will spare her. The men promise to spare her life and she helps them escape. Later in the story, the walls come tumbling down and the people of Jericho are destroyed. Everyone except for this prostitute and her family. So we now have a “problem” woman who pretended to be a prostitute as well as one who actually was.
Ruth- The “Outsider”
The next woman in the genealogy is Ruth. The story of Ruth starts with a woman named Naomi and her husband and two sons moving to Moab because of a famine. The Moabites were actually distant cousins of the Israelites by means of an illicit relationship between Lot and one of his own daughters. At one point, their women had seduced a large number of their men and led them into worshipping their own gods. So the people of Moab were not highly thought of by the Hebrews.
Both of Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women and ten years later die. Alright, you’re probably sitting here thinking “Merry Christmas!” There’s a lot of talk about uncomfortable topics like sex and death. I promise you it’ll all make sense and will actually lead to the merry Christmas part! Just hang with me.
Just like Tamar, these women were in danger as widows. So Naomi says that their best chance is to go back to their own country to the town of Bethlehem. On the way back to Bethlehem Naomi turns to her daughters-in-law and tells them to go back home. She basically says thank you for loving me and honoring my sons but go back to your own people. If you go with me, you’re doomed to be a widow for the rest of your life and will probably die in poverty. One of them agrees tearfully and goes back home. The other daughter named Ruth says in 1:16-17 “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Ruth powerfully demonstrates that it looks like to love and care for someone regardless of the personal ramifications.
Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem to an uncertain fate. Throughout most of this book Ruth is referred to often by the Hebrew people as being “the Moabite” or the “Moabitess.” She has been given the label of “not one of us” or “the outsider”.
Undeterred, she sets out to do whatever she can to care for Naomi and herself. To provide for them she decides to go out to a nearby field to pick up the grain leftovers on the ground during harvest. This was a common practice that was instituted by God to help provide for the poor, widows, orphans and strangers.
The original language says that she “just happens” to go to Boaz’s field and that Boaz “just happens to show up”. Boaz notices here and asks about her. His foreman says that she’s the “Moabite outsider” daughter in law of Naomi. Boaz then invites here to eat with him, instructs his servants to leave extra grain on the ground for her to harvest and tells her she can work alongside the women of his family.
This is extraordinary compassion showed to an outsider. I wish I had time to tell the rest of the story but ultimately she ends up marrying Boaz. At the end of the book of Ruth, there is a genealogy much like the one we’re studying from this morning. However it leads us to the point where we find out that Ruth is the grandmother of King David.
Again, this is pretty scandalous stuff because we’re finding out that this “outsider” became part of God’s family. That “Moabite” couldn’t possibly be tied to the greatest king of the Hebrew people.
Bathsheba- the “Other man’s wife”
Bathsheba is our last woman’s story today. Her story is tied up very closely with King David so we’ll discuss more about her next week. But it’s not fair to simply skip over what she experienced. A summary is that she was a faithful wife to a great warrior named Uriah. While her husband was away at war she was summoned to the Kings house. In those days, you didn’t deny the King when he sent for you. So she went and when she arrived, she was taken advantage of. This is just the start of the shameful circumstances she finds herself forced into. Later in her story we find that she becomes pregnant with an illegitimate child, her husband is purposefully murdered and then she suffers the loss of her baby.
So today we have heard the stories of a pretend prostitute, a real prostitute, a enemy Moabite and a woman forced into an affair. This is hardly a Christmas Card you’re going to see made by hallmark. The Jews probably put a lot of TBD stickers on this card.
But here’s the great news! The labels we’ve used this morning aren’t the way they’re finally remembered. God himself made sure that their names were included in this list honored them in a way that destroyed the labels they might have had in their lifetime.
Tamar was a woman who took a huge risk to avoid the end of her family and prevent a selfish man from tossing her aside and continuing in his evil behavior. As such, she is referred to as righteous and finds her name in the greatest list of all. People called her a “problem”. God loved her and proved her righteous.
Rahab also took a huge risk and committed treason and rejected her own people because she recognized the power of the One true God. She protected a vulnerable group of God’s people and in turn was part of God’s plan to conquer Jericho. People called her a “prostitute”. God loved her and rescued her.
Ruth took a huge risk and followed her mother-in-law to a new territory where she was most likely condemned to be a despised outsider and widow for the rest of her life. She turned her back on her old life, people and identity and embraced God and his family instead. God saw her situation and provided a new family. People called her the “outsider”. God loved her and helped redeem her.
Bathsheba was a wounded woman who was taken advantage of and had her life forever altered. When all is said and done, after she gets married to David and bears another son named Solomon who was one of the greatest rulers this world has ever seen. When she does, she’s no longer referred to as Uriah’s wife but as David’s wife, the mother of Solomon. People called her the “other man’s wife”. God loved her and restored her.
This Christmas we’re coming face to face with what a Godly family looks like. And it’s messy! It’s uncomfortable. We like the first set of Christmas cards where everything looks perfect. We’re even more comfortable with the stickers over people’s faces. TBD. We’re more comfortable with labels for people.
But God won’t let us judge and label those he loves and has worked through.God’s family is defined by his love not our labels. Click To Tweet
Here’s what that looks like in real life.
If you’re new to this community and you find some of these stories hit close to home. Welcome to our dysfunctional family! We’re glad you’re here.
This list of names proves that God wants you here. He loves the widow, the neglected and forgotten about, the abused and the outsider. You are not somebody’s problem. You are not defined by your sexual history. You are not an outcast and there is no part of your broken history that can’t be restored. He loves to take people who have been labeled by this world and throw away those labels and give you a new family. A family that finds it’s center in Jesus. Thank you for coming.
However, God does ask people to make commitments like Rahab and Ruth to seek out his people and his community. It means being willing to turn away from the way of life you’ve lived up to this point and learn to follow Jesus.
There’s a challenge here also for those of us who are part of this family as well.We’d rather label people than love them. Click To Tweet
Let’s face it, it’s far easier to label people and write them off then it is to love them.
People with problems- There are Tamar’s in each of our lives. When people around us have problems we’d rather keep our distance than be part of the solution. We tell ourselves that the problems are too big, or that they brought them on themselves, or that it’s not our problem. Really, we’re just selfish and don’t want to make the time to love them well.
People facing Sexual Issues- There are Rahab’s in each of our lives. There are people all around us that have bought into the lie that their sexuality defines them as human beings. It might be past mistakes. It might be sexual orientation. Sex is both powerful and difficult to understand. It’s easier to whisper about someone’s mistakes or post articles on Facebook. Instead of developing a relationship and having an honest conversation about our lives and beliefs we settle for stereotypes.
The Outsiders- We bump into Ruth all the time. Sometimes our labels are a little more subtle. What happens when we love people well and the church begins to grow. Growing often means we have more imperfect people in our family. All of the sudden our church doesn’t feel the way it used to. We start wanting things to be the way they were before the church got too large. We liked it better when it was smaller. We start looking for ways to get back the way things were. Instead of embracing new people we begin emphasizing our personal preferences that might not be what’s best for those new to the community.
People who have been taken advantage of- Bathsheba may closer than you think. As many as 1 in 6 women have been a victim of some kind of sexual abuse. These people struggle with depression, stress, and tend to turn to substances to help them cope. Some of your friends, coworkers and family are just waiting for someone to get close enough to them to share their pain with.What would the church look like if we hated labels and loved people. Click To Tweet
Imagine a church where widows were cared for. Imagine a church where people who have had struggles with sex and sexuality could find out they were loved by God so much that he sent his only son to die? Imagine a church where our primary identity was as sons and daughters of God instead of the labels that the world gives? Wouldn’t you like to be part of a family where no one has to worry about a To Be Determined Sticker on their face?
That’s the kind of church I want to be part of! That’s the kind of church this world is dying to see. I want to end this morning by reading Ephesians 2:11-22
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
And that makes this “A Merry Christmas”