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SERMON TEXT BELOW
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 25, 2021
Isaiah 9:2–7, Hebrews 1:1–4, Matthew 1:1–17
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Planning for the school’s annual children’s Christmas program is quite an ordeal. There will be those who are conscripted to wear plain colored robes made of bedsheets and pretend that they know something about being shepherds. A dozen or so girls will volunteer to be angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Crepe paper and glitter will be combined to create colorful crowns for the magi who will undoubtedly sing off-key, We Three Kings of Orient Are. Others will be drafted to join the ranks of choirs who through the ages have memorized the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Joy to the World. Then, the great controversy of choosing a boy and a girl to play Joseph and Mary. Add to this cast a newborn baby, an innkeeper, a few straggly sheep and presto—the program will be just about ready to launch! But one important component is still missing. Who will we get to direct the pageant? Weeks of rehearsals and costume making will lead up to the night of nights. Anticipation will fill the air! The unstated goal is that after everyone sings the final song they will return home saying, “This year’s program was the best yet!”
Should we expect anything less from Matthew’s Christmas pageant? Why, if anyone can pull this off without a hitch it will be an organized and efficient tax accountant like Matthew!
Looking at his genealogy, we are amazed! Matthew begins by impressively organizing his presentation of Jesus by employing three groups of fourteen (Mt 1:17). In all likelihood, Matthew’s three by fourteen pattern is a play on the name of David, whose Hebrew consonants daleth waw daleth add up to fourteen (daleth = four, waw = six). This indicates that Jesus is the Davidic son, three times over! Quite impressive theology!
Studying his gospel more broadly, we see that Matthew plans to perfectly structure his narrative to highlight our Lord’s five teaching blocks (Mt 5:1–7:29; 8:1–11:1; 11:2–13:58; 14:1–19:1; and 19:2–26:1). “The old timers will love it,” we exclaim with great joy. “They will be reminded of Moses’s five-part book that we affectionately call the Pentateuch.” With great anticipation the meeting concludes on this high note. “If anyone is going to direct a great Christmas presentation it is going to be Matthew!”
But at the next meeting we look at Matthew’s genealogy with greater scrutiny. Within moments the committee is shocked. Matthew has placed four huge eyesores into the program! Their names are Tamar (Mt 1:3), Rahab and Ruth (Mt 1:5), and a certain “wife of Uriah” (Mt 1:6). How dare Matthew go against the conventional wisdom of the day by letting women into his genealogy! One committee member sighs in frustration, “Well! If he has to include women, why not invoke the names of our three lovely matriarchs—Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel?” Another person adds this critique, “Doesn’t Matthew remember that lineage is traced through men, not women? And that the function of a genealogy is to give solemn honor to the final descendant, Jesus? Matthew breaks both of these time-honored rules!”
The chairman then asks the inevitable question, “Who picked Matthew to direct this program in the first place?”
Someone grabs a Bible and reads from Matthew 9:9, “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” The room becomes quiet enough to hear a pin drop! The reading continues with these words of Jesus, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13). Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba demonstrate how God chooses “what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” and how he chooses “what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). Their presence in Christ’s lineage foreshadows Jesus’s love for other outcasts like a Roman centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5-13) and a Canaanite woman’s daughter (Mt 15:21-28).
At the heart of Matthew’s genealogy is this grand gospel. Jesus loves people who are victims as well as perpetrators of family dysfunction and deceit (Tamar); who feel used and worthless (Rahab); who bury loved ones and endure the pain of leaving their homeland (Ruth); and who are used by others for pleasure only to witness the death of so many dreams (Bathsheba). In the end, these four women’s lives are amazing testimonies to what Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gn 50:20).
So Matthew knew what he was doing all along! Could this be the reason he includes this saying of Jesus, twice? “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mt 19:30; 20:16). Matthew adds a fifth woman to his genealogy—Mary.
Mary also knew about this good news that turns everything upside down. In Luke 1:52 she sings of her God, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” Just like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, Mary’s life began with extreme disgrace and angst. “She was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (Mt 1:18–19). But Mary’s life was vindicated. She became the very Mother of Immanuel, God with us (Mt 1:23; cf. Is 7:14).
Matthew’s Christmas genealogy prepares us to follow his gospel and revel in the multitude of his messages of grace. Jesus chooses fishermen instead of Pharisees, sinners instead of Sadducees, and whores instead of Herodians. Climactically, Jesus chooses thorns for his crown instead of silver and gold, and spit and blood instead of sweetness and light. His choices lead to torment and torture and darkness and death.
This led to the greatest shock of all. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said” (Mt 28:5–6). Jesus is Life overriding death and making all things new. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Mt 21:42; cf. Ps 118:22–23).
Let’s face it. Try as we might, our Christmas pageants are never exactly perfect. Isaiah 9:2 may be misquoted, the babe’s swaddling clothes may slip off at the most inopportune moment, the Christmas tree may remind us of Charlie Brown’s sorry-looking stick, and the inn keeper may forget his lines, again! That’s okay. Let it remind you of how Matthew introduces Jesus. It is not with glitter and Hollywood glitz. There are no fireworks or fine pedigrees. Matthew doesn’t incorporate the kind of people who are finalists on American Idol. Instead, Matthew selects four broken and outcast women, who in so many ways, are just like us. No wonder he records this stunning promise just after his genealogy; “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Thank God for the Christmas story inspired by the Holy Spirit and penned by a man named Matthew. Merry Christmas! Amen.