by: Denise Robinson
Christmas at Matthew’s House
Gen. 15:1-6; Matt. 1:1, 17-23
This Advent season we are looking at Christmas through each of the four Gospels. It's as if each of the Gospels represents the house of the Gospel writer and we have been invited to that house to celebrate the Christmas season. (This sermon series is based on the book, “Christmas in the Four Gospel Homes,” by Cynthia Campbell).
Last week Pastor Mark took us to Mark’s house. When we arrived, we found a simple home – a log cabin, a simple ranch house, a studio apartment. Going inside, we found very little clutter: no pictures on the wall or on shelves, no decorations or knickknacks, no ornaments on the simple Christmas tree in the corner. We were met by one man when the door opened; a rather strange-looking man who introduced himself as John the Baptist. Mark 1:1 tells us that Mark is opening his Gospel with “the beginning of the good news.” But, for Mark, what is the beginning? Not a baby in a manger or Mary and Joseph looking for a room in Bethlehem or shepherds or angels or wise men. Jesus is thirty years old and he comes to John to be baptized and to begin his ministry. John, we are told, is the one sent to spread the message, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” As we sit down in Mark’s house and listen to the story, we realize that for Mark the key to the good news is not about Jesus’ birth story, but his death and resurrection. Mark reminds us that we have hope because God’s love conquers death. We don’t need to be distracted by shiny objects; the good news for us is that, like Jesus, we will conquer death and live eternally with God.
This morning we have been invited to Matthew’s house for Christmas and as we turn onto the street we are amazed by the difference. This house is huge, and old, and has rooms downstairs and upstairs and rooms in turrets. It reminds us of an old, rambling Victorian home with a past. If only walls could talk! It’s not brand new and it maybe could use a bit of a paint job, but it’s well-kept. From the outside it looks welcoming, it looks lived-in. Our first impression is not changed when we walk in the door. The first thing we notice is that there is stuff everywhere! This is a house that would take forever to dust. Family photos in particular lead from room to room – on the walls, on shelves, on the fireplace mantle, on the piano sitting over in the corner. Generations of family are in these photos. The large Christmas tree has lights and ornaments and garland – and the ornaments are not store bought, they’ve been handmade and passed down and each has their own story. And then the noise hits us and we realize that there are people everywhere: men, women, children underfoot. All talking at once. Compared to Mark’s house, this place is sheer chaos. But as we listen, a common theme emerges. The people all seem to be family and they’re telling family stories. “Remember when grandma made that pie.” “Remember when Uncle Fred knocked over the punch bowl.” “Remember when….”
Matthew’s Gospel and the history of his house begins thousands of years before Jesus’ birth. Matthew 1:1-2 begins the narrative: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judea and his brothers.” If we were to continue to read to v. 16 – and let’s be honest, we normally skip this part – we would read name after name after name. These are people whose photos are on the walls in Matthew’s house. But who are these people?
We begin well enough with Abraham, who leads to King David, who then gets us to Joseph, Mary’s husband. But let’s slow down a minute. First, v. 17 tells us that from Abraham to David is 14 generations; from David to the Exile is another 14 generations; and from the Exile to Jesus is yet another 14 generations. However, if we take the time and do the math, this doesn’t add up. This isn’t ancestry.com, this is Matthew making a theological statement. In Hebrew tradition, the number “7” is the perfect number. It was from the beginning of creation. God created the world in seven days. Matthew’s history account is perfection times two. But Matthew doesn’t stop there. He divides Israel’s history into three segments: Abraham to David, David to Exile, Exile to Jesus. Three is another of those numbers with significance. Three is a symbol of completeness. God is completely seen in the Trinity. In these three segments of Israel’s history we have the movement from no nation to a mighty nation, from a mighty nation to a broken nation, and from a broken nation to a restored nation with a Messiah. We have perfection and completeness together in one package: Jesus.
Secondly, however, we notice something else about this genealogy. There are women in here! For a patriarchal system, that was unheard of – and yet, here they are. Who are these women? Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. You can read about Tamar in Gen. 38. She’s a Canaanite and she marries into the family of Judah (one of Jacob’s sons and the head of one of the 12 Tribes of Israel). Her husband dies and by Jewish tradition his brothers are required to take her into their homes and care for her, but that doesn’t happen. Short version of the story – she ends up on the street, Judah (her father-in-law) comes across her and believes her to be a prostitute, he propositions her and she winds up pregnant. Hearing that his widowed daughter-in-law is pregnant and not realizing himself to be the cause, he is determined to kill her. She reveals her true identity and the identity of her child, lives, and her child continues Judah’s line. What a mess! Then there’s Rahab, another Canaanite. If Judah thought Tamar was a prostitute, well Rahab really is one. You can read about her in Joshua, Ch. 2. She helps out Joshua as he prepares to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land and despite her past, here she is in the genealogy. Ruth is a Moabite, a member of a nation who was an enemy to Israel. And this unnamed wife of Uriah was a Hittite woman by the name of Bathsheba. You can read about her sordid affair with King David in 2 Samuel 11-12. Here are not just women, but foreign women and with “reputations.” Their pictures are in the house as well and they are part of the family.
In the midst of all this chaos, Matthew now brings us his story of the birth of Jesus. It’s in Matt. 1:17-23 (READ). V. 23 is the key to the good news as Matthew sees it. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” In spite of all the drama, the dysfunctional families, the chaos, God wanted to bring us together in one house with Himself. And so, he sent Jesus – to bring us together and to unite us as a family. It all starts with Abraham. Not because he’s at the beginning: that would be Adam. Not because he’s at the beginning of the nation of Israel: that would be Moses. Not because he’s at the beginning of the nation of Israel as a powerhouse: that would be David. It’s because Abraham was promised by God that he would be the father of all nations. It’s because Abraham, considered to the first Jewish patriarch, was actually born in Ur of the Chaldeans (modern-day Iraq). With Abraham as our beginning, all are welcome in this house: Jews, Gentiles, men, women, every nationality and cultures, sinners and saints.
So, what is the message we take away from Matthew’s house? Matthew’s house is truly a home. It’s a place where family and extended family gather. Outsiders are not only welcomed – they are made part of the family. When Matthew reminds us that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us,” he means that the “us” is all of us. God’s promise is for all of us who believe in Jesus Christ, no exceptions, no qualifiers, no restrictions. We can all gather around the piano in the corner and sing, “Joy to the world. The Lord is come!”