Monday, 1 December 2014

Advent begins

Waiting: overcoming shame...

In these first days of our Advent season, I read of the origins of Jesus Christ, of how he was
"David’s son, Abraham’s son:Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had Judah and his brothers, Judah had Perez and Zerah (the mother was Tamar), Perez had Hezron, Hezron had Aram..."

All the way down to "Joseph, Mary’s husband, the Mary who gave birth to Jesus, the Jesus who was called Christ."

All the way down to Joseph. Who was not Jesus' father.

So, as scholars pored the genealogies, the generations upon generations, looking at David's progeny, did it ever cross their minds that the coming King would not be kingly, as they imagined? Did they look at abilities and prowess, at connection and dedication, wondering who would be that King to succeed their own king David?

Did any of them ever have an inkling?

As I consider Jesus's 'noble' birth, traced all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I see something less savoury in Jacob's sons. Judah.

Judah, who collaborated and connived with his brothers to eliminate his younger brother Joseph.
Judah, who wanted his brother dead and gone from the family.
Judah, who, even so, set great store by family and sold his brother rather than killing him.
Judah, who set great store by family and sold his brother into the living death of slavery.
Judah, who set great store by family, and wanted his widowed daughter-in-law to sleep with her brother-in-law and so have children 'for' his dead son.
Judah, who slept with a prostitute - or so he thought. Was he married? Was it only this one time? I wouldn't think so. The woman was covered with a veil, disguised, so he could hardly have been overwhelmed by her beauty.
Judah, who slept with his own widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, after neglecting to provide another husband for her.
Judah, the man who wouldn't even pay for his favours directly, but got a friend to do it for him.
Judah, the callous and judgemental, who wanted his pregnant daughter-in-law burned to death for her adultery.
Judah, who fathered twins with Tamar, the second of whom was born first and who took the kingly line down to Jesus.

And what of Tamar? A woman given first to one man, then, when he died, his brother. A woman who took desperate measures to become a mother. A cunning woman, who engineered sex with her father-in-law so that her child/children would remain in the family. A clever woman who, in this way, protected herself from punishment and death.

God took the jealous, the callous, the harsh, the immoral, the judgemental Judah and included him in Jesus' ancestors.
God took the broken, the powerless, the rejected, the neglected, the shamed, the desperate Tamar and included her in Jesus' ancestors.

And this was not all. We are influenced by genes and upbringing, influenced (but not defined) by our ancestry. We read, in great men's obituaries, of wonderfully gifted and great ancestors whose inheritance has helped shape their progeny. When we look at the genealogy of Jesus, he turns this upside down.  Jesus' family story shouts of immorality, depravity, selfishness and shame.

Jesse, who ignored and neglected his best son, David.
David - wonderful man of God, yet a murderer and adulterer also.
Solomon - a wise yet licentious king who squandered his inheritance on good living and left a divided kingdom as his legacy.
Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), who was king of Israel for only three months before he was deposed by King Nebuchadnezzar, captured and taken in abject slavery like an animal, to a foreign country. He ended his days there, 'freed' from prison only after 37 years, spending the rest of his life under the king's eye.

The rest of the list in Matthew 1, regardless of whether kings are included,  shouts of obscurity.

Jesus brings us morality, righteous living, unselfishness and GRACE.

God INCLUDES us, in our shame and disgrace, in his glorious family. Perhaps, this Christmas, it is time to give ourselves a gift.  The gift of giving ourselves "a life no longer controlled by the shame of the past.", 
Jesus has redeemed us, given us great worth and value. We can accept that gift in accepting freedom for ourselves.

One such woman who did this was Elizabeth. She is the first woman we read about in Luke's account of the birth of Jesus. She derived great honour from HER ancestry - she was descended from one of Aaron's daughters - yet she was childless. Barren. This was the ultimate disgrace. Childlessness was considered a curse from God for guilt and wrongdoing, a punishment for unfaithfulness. Luke tells us that Elizabeth could never conceive and could not have children. Surely Elizabeth should have been a bitter, angry woman who cursed her fate, always craving for that which she could not have.

Yet she was not. Elizabeth and Zechariah, a temple priest, (also descended from the priestly line) lived "honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God."

The name Zechariah means "he who remembers Jehovah,” or, perhaps, “he whom Jehovah remembers,” Elisabeth means "my god is my oath" or "devoted to God".

Indeed. These wonderful, godly people were to become parents of John the Baptist, he in turn so devoted to God that he became a prophet, living of God's sustenance in the desert, prophesying and preaching repentance to prepare the heart of God's people for the coming Messiah. The contrast of these quiet, good lives in the midst of corrupt, evil times - 'the time of Herod' - shines out. History has shown how pivotal they were; but it would not have felt like that to them. They could not have dreamed, in the middle of their humdrum daily devotion, of the events that would come. Least of all a miraculous - because it was, indeed, a miracle that Elisabeth became pregnant - conception.

No comments:

Post a Comment