Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 26, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Genesis 2:7-9, 15-17+Psalm 8+1 Thessalonians 4:13-18+Matthew 1:1-16

Who are your people? Where do you come from? Growing up in a small town in Eastern North Carolina, my family was something of an anomaly: we were from somewhere else, and there were no grandparents or aunts and uncles or cousins living within shouting distance. Kinship was, and still is, important in my hometown, even though I have never lived in the same city as any of my family members once I reached adulthood. As I have more years behind me than in front of me, that makes me a little wistful.

Kinship was important in Jesus’s time, too. Even today, family systems are tightly woven in Middle Eastern culture. To not know your cousins to the first, second, and even third degree would be unthinkable.

Matthew wants us to know who Jesus’s people are. There were plenty of doubters about his parentage, about who he was and where he came from, and especially about the claims made by his followers that this Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Matthew is often called the most Jewish of the gospels, because it lays out a case using fulfillment of prophecy and a clear understanding of the law of Moses, all of which, in this telling, points to Jesus.

Now, you need to know that this genealogy of Jesus is never read in church, although a lot of people who know their bible can tell you about all the “begats” (as they say in the King James Version) that you find not once but twice! In the 5th chapter of Genesis, the lineage from Adam to Noah is mapped out. So when the great flood happened, we know that the family line of those who were saved from it traced back to the very beginning, or that’s the claim.

For Matthew, the intent is much the same, although in Jesus, God is not about to destroy the world but to save it and to save us.

But, the translation I read a moment ago is not one you will find in any bible which is why I did not make the usual announcement of “the Gospel of our savior Jesus Christ according to Matthew.” Traditional readings trace the lineage on the male side, listing the fathers, the patriarchs. Today, we read a version crafted by Patricia Ann Ware focusing on the matrilineal line. Women were, after all, instrumental in the whole project.

The King James Version begins, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren” (Matthew 1:1-2) and it continues on until we get to “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (1:16).

But you can see that this is not how the genealogy of the matriarchs reads. “A genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of Miriam, the daughter of Anna: Sarah was the mother of Isaac, and Rebekah was the mother of Jacob, Leah was the mother of Judah.”

Not an Abraham to be found.         

Now, I have nothing against Father Abraham, but it gives an interesting perspective to hear the matriarchs’ names where they are known and to note it where they are not known. The preservation of the male line took precedence, so it’s nice to see this reworking.

Who are your people, Jesus, and where do you come from?
My ancestor Tamar, spouse of Judah, connects me to the Davidic line of succession.
Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho and helped the Israelites conquer the city.
Ruth was a Moabite, a refugee.
Bathsheba’s husband was killed on the orders of David, the king, so that he could have her.
There is a big gap in the family tree after the exile to Babylon – none of the women are mentioned at all until Miriam, Mary, my mother.

If ever you are concerned that your family history is a cause for shame or exclusion, just take a look at this genealogy. Jesus’s ancestors include foreigners, rapists, adulterers, thieves, and prostitutes. It was into this line that God took on human flesh.

My family tree includes Confederate soldiers and slaveholders and lots of mental illness. And the Incarnation is for me, too. As writer Kathleen Norris puts it, “In Jesus Christ, God turns even human dysfunction to the good.”[1]

It seems that God’s design is to inhabit the broken and the flawed ones and the underbelly of creation and say, “I came for you, not in spite of your fallenness but because of it, because you are the ones who need it most.” Archbishop Oscar Romero went so far as to claim that only the poor and destitute could celebrate Christmas properly because they are the ones most in need of it.

So in this Christmas season when everything is all messed up, and believe me when I say that I have had some stern conversations with God in my daily prayer about {{{ALL THIS}}}, we can be assured that in coming to dwell among us, pitching a tent in our midst, God is still saying that the world created in the beginning of time is not just holy, it is good. It may not look like it when we peek out the window into the world, but God’s eyes are not our eyes, and God’s ways are not our ways.

Give thanks and rejoice that Christ is born in each of us, in the messy stable that is our life, and blesses it so that we can be a blessing to others.

Merry Christmas to all of you, no matter who your people are and where you come from. Christ is born, and that’s all that matters.

[1] Kathleen Norris, “Christmas Eve Vigil” in God with Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, ed. Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolf (Paraclete Press: 2007), 122.

ASEPSermon for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 26, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas