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11.29.20 Loving in Fear and Faith Isaiah 7.1-14 Matthew 1.1-25 Sermon Summary

by on December 1, 2020

As someone who’s been involved with weddings for about thirty years now, I can tell you that engaged couples deal with fear: Fear the ceremony won’t go as planned, fear of in-laws, fear of what the best-man might say in his speech, or the fear of marriage itself. 

Joseph had cause for fear. We’re told he was a righteous man and he was engaged to an apparently unrighteous woman. But Joseph was not alone, and Matthew makes certain that we know this.

In Matthew’s telling of the story, Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah. We know he’s Jewish because he is the son of Abraham. We know he’s qualified to be the Messiah because he is the son of David.

But Jesus is also the son of Mary. It’s Mary who gives Jesus his humanity, who ensures that he’s part of the human family. And the human family isn’t perfect.

It’s here that engaged couples discover another fear: There are skeletons in the closet of their new family. There are imperfect family stories and imperfect family members. Maybe you discover you have half-siblings from a parent’s indiscretion, or the family wealth was gained by cheating, or there are relatives cut off because of their sexual identity, or there’s an uncle who abuses his family.

Most people keep silent about these stories. They ignore this part of their story, but in doing so they ignore this part of their humanity. But Jesus came to redeem all of our humanity—our proud moments and our despicable ones. And so Matthew begins with a genealogy. It isn’t ancestry.com accurate but more of a “metaphorical map” according to Jewish New Testament scholar Amy Jill Levine.

The genealogy includes five women whose stories stocked Jesus’ family closet with lots of skeletons. Their stories are our assurance that Jesus is human. It is the guarantee that he redeems the whole human family.

The first woman is Tamar Judah’s daughter-in-law. First she was married to Judah’s son Er who died. Being without children, she was obligated to marry Judah’s next son Onan. (Onan has his own crawlspace in Jesus’ family closet—even having a “sin” named after him in Roman Catholic and fundamentalists circles. . .) 

When Onan died without producing any children, Tamar was supposed to marry Judah’s next son Shelah but Judah procrastinated. Why? Judah was afraid Shelah would die like his two older brothers.

So Tamar took matters into her own hands. She dressed as a prostitute and was hired by Judah. When found to be pregnant, she was judged but acquitted herself with his staff and ring, the payment he made for her. Judah was forced to conclude that, “Tamar is more righteous than I.”

These two are in Jesus’ family tree. They are two of his great grandparents. 

The second woman is Rahab who really was a prostitute. She lived in Jericho at the beginning of the conquest. Joshua sent two spies who “visited” Rahab’s place and were discovered. She hid them and aided their escape and in return they spared her when Jericho was destroyed.

Rahab is one of Jesus’ great grandmothers.

The third woman is named Ruth. She married into a Jewish family but her husband died. Instead of returning to her own people, she remained with her mother-in-law Naomi and followed her back to Bethlehem.

Later while harvesting in a field, Ruth seduces a relative of her dead husband named Boaz. She marries Boaz. Ruth is one of Jesus’ great grandmothers.

The fourth woman is called the “Wife of Uriah” but we know her better as Bathsheba. In today’s parlance, Bathsheba was the object of King David’s “unwanted sexual advances.” When she became pregnant David arranged Uriah’s death. 

David then married Bathsheba because the law required rape victims to marry their rapists. And these two are among Jesus’ great grandparents.

All of these men and women with their skeletons in the closets are part of Jesus’ family tree. Incest, prostitution, seduction, rape, murder: And you thought your closet was full!

What is Matthew’s point? It is that Jesus in his full humanity can redeem us in our humanity. And there’s another point: Don’t conclude too quickly that what appears to unrighteous is automatically beyond God’s redeeming. 

And so finally we arrive at Mary the engaged but pregnant teen. Her betrothed Joseph needs some convincing. He has a dream in which an angel says to him, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. Don’t be afraid to treat her lovingly.” Maybe the angel reminded Joseph of this genealogy.

Then the angel quoted Isaiah: “Don’t worry about the kingdoms allied against you, Ahaz. See that young woman over there? By the time she gets married, has a child, and the child is weaned, your enemies will be no more. Don’t be afraid!”

Joseph awoke and thought about Mary. “In the time we marry,” he thinks, “and the child is born, God’s salvation will come.”

Fear not, love in faith. In love is trust in God. In love is hope of redemption. In love is salvation. Joseph was called to trust God and to treat Mary lovingly.

Let us ask today: Whom are we called to love? You can act lovingly. You can believe in love even when you don’t feel it. 

God of our lives, help us to love you, as Jesus commanded us, with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, with all of our actions, and with all of our souls. You have made us for relationship with you, and we cannot be fully human without this love. 

Jesus also commanded us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Help us to love ourselves. Because love covers over a multitude of sin, help us to regard our sins as you do—as a loving friend. Grant us humility to accept your grace in our own lives, not holding on to past failures and disappointments or grandiose images we have of ourselves, that in accepting your grace we may also fully receive your love.

Then help us to love our neighbors as you love them in Christ, for not only did Jesus command this also, but they need this love, and we need to show it. Help us to love, even when it is difficult or we don’t feel like loving. 

With the love we have for our nation, may we love all the citizens and residents who live within it. With the love we have for our friends, may we strive to love our enemies. With the love we have for material things, may we love those who live in material insecurity. With the love we have for those who can help us, may we love those who have nothing to offer. With the love we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ, may we love our cousins in other faiths, and all your children everywhere. With the love we have for our life on this earth, may we love all your creatures and preserve their well-being. 

Help us to love you through the trials of our lives, and through the dangers we face. We pray for those who are ill; may they know that your love of life brings healing through resurrection. We pray for those who are traveling; may they enjoy your protection as they explore your world. We pray for those who are buckling under the stress of these days; may they know peace in the love you have for them, as you share their burdens. We pray for the heart-broken, for the grieving, for the ones dwelling in spiritual darkness, and those whose emotional scars are a constant reminder of trauma; may they believe in your love even when they don’t feel it.

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