Summary: Matthew presents what Fred Craddock calls "the hard side of Christmas." But in a world that is getting increasing smaller and tremendously more urban, its message may be more relevant to us than the others for Matthew has a Christmas message for the city.
The Drama of Christmas
In our day there is a cultural and social battle over the meaning of Christmas. The battle has extended from the schoolyard to the courtyard. However, the battle over Christmas has not only impacted schools and public places. The struggle over the meaning of Christmas has impacted the church.
However, the struggle to understand the significance and meaning of Christmas is not a new one. It was a struggle between the writers of the New Testament, as they each approached the Incarnation with their own impressions.
Mark doesn’t mention the birth of Jesus. It is almost as if Jesus simply appeared on the face of the earth.
Luke’s gospel is where we usually like to spend the holiday season. Luke’s gospel is full of angels, and angelic choirs. Luke speaks of "Peace on earth and good will toward men." Luke pictures, for us, peaceful shepherds from the peaceful fields on a peaceful night visiting the Prince of Peace.
John speaks metaphorically of the birth of Christ. He talks about Jesus being the Word of God. He tells us that Jesus came and set up camp among us and has shown his light to mankind.
Matthew has none of those pictures. There are no angelic choirs, no pronouncements of peace, no saving light. Matthew presents what Fred Craddock calls "the hard side of Christmas." But in a world that is getting increasing smaller and tremendously more urban, its message may be more relevant to us than the others for Matthew has a Christmas message for the city.
Matthew provides the birth narrative of Jesus in five dramatic scenes. These five scenes present the gospel message for the city.
1) A Tour of The Graveyard - 1:1-17
Matthew begins the story of Christmas with a tour of the graveyard.
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Oved the father of Jesse,
And Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Now, I can understand if your heart was not stirred by these few verses of scripture. I know that genealogical tables are not usually electric with homiletical gems. However, in these verses, most of which do read something like a phone directory, we have the theological stage set for all the rest of Matthew’s gospel.
The first thing that we notice during our graveyard tour is that Matthew is only showing us select stones. He, being not at all concerned about the thoroughness of his genealogical record, leaves gaps of up to several generations in his list. All this makes it even more special that, in the opening paragraph of our cemetery tour, Matthew takes us to four very ancient graves in the oldest sections of Israel’s burial ground.
Later in this chapter Matthew goes on to tell the story of how the virgin Mary became Jesus’ mother - a rather scandalous story. Four women, all included in the genealogy, are what Ray Bakke calls the "grandmothers of Christmas past." Both Matthew and I insist they are part of the Christmas story.
Moviemakers would give these stories an R rating. Let’s review them briefly.
Tamar; Genesis 38
(a deceptive foreign woman)
In the midst of the Joseph story, the author flashes back to reveal another side of the miraculous providence in the Joseph story. Tamar married the first two sons of Judah and outlived them both. She was denied marriage to the third son, thus breaking local Levirite marriage laws, and she was returned to her village. (As the father of two sons, I can understand Judah’s reluctance to have her "devour" all three of his boys!)
Sometime later, she decided to intervene in Judah’s life. She dressed as a prostitute and had a sexual affair with him. He could not pay her, so he left his ancient "credit card" (his signature ring with its cord and his walking stick). Later Judah heard Tamar was pregnant and ordered she be executed. When asked who the father was, she produced the "credit card," and Judah’s hypocrisy was exposed. Tamar had twins, one of whom is an ancestor of Jesus.
Rahab; Joshua 2:1-24; 6:22-25
(a foreign prostitute who demonstrates faith)
Rahab ran a hotel in Jericho. We gain insight into what type of hotel this was from James 2:25, which uses the word porne to describe Rahab. It was an urban place where lights are low and you don’t use your real name, if anyone asks your name, making it an obvious place for spies to go and hide.