“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David” –Matthew 1:1, NKJV
Skeletons lurk in the closet. Every family has at least one if we are honest enough to level with one another. Adultery, divorce, alcohol and drug addiction, suicide, and physical abuse are just some of the skeletons we keep under lock and key in our family’s cellar. The painful memories of relatives enslaved by the death grip of sin still haunt us today. Let’s face it: a private eye could dig up enough dirt on us to bury our family’s reputation.
The Christmas story tells us that we are in good company. There are skeletons in the closet of Christmas. What is amazing in Matthew’s Gospel is that God directs the skeletons to come out of the closet so that the stage may be set for Advent. God could have easily moved Matthew to airbrush the rough edges of his Christmas message. However, God never glosses over the historical facts that the ancestors of Jesus were not what we might call Girl Scouts or choirboys.
God comes right out and tells us that Jesus Christ descended from a long line of hard-core sinners. But to echo Jesus’ tough talk: be my guest to throw the first stone if you are without sin (John 8:7). True enough: Jesus’ family tree is full of bad apples. However, God casts these shady characters in his drama of salvation to tell us the greatest news ever told.
For starters, take Adam and Eve. Our first parents were guilty of high treason. They would have rather ruled in perdition than serve in Paradise (Gen. 3:1–24). Even though she had it all, Eve took Satan’s bait—hook, line, and sinker. And Adam followed suit. Adam and Eve teamed up with Satan to go to war with God. Instead of washing his hands of the mess, God promises Christmas to regain Paradise lost. God graciously curses the serpent to rescue the seed of the woman from the Fall (Gen. 3:15).
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, Judah and Tamar hooked up in a story of sexual immorality (Gen. 38:1–30). Judah was a man who up and left the church for the fast times of the nightlife. Tamar wanted a baby so badly that she committed prostitution. These are the kinds of Old Testament stories we usually skip over during family devotions because little ears are listening! In spite of all this high-handed sin, God sent Perez to continue the line of Judah for the sake of Christmas (Matt. 1:3).
The road to Bethlehem takes a turn through the pagan land of Jericho, where we meet another bad girl of the Bible (Josh. 2:1–24). Rahab’s neighbors would have thought nothing of two men getting a room at her place. After all, Rahab was a shady lady who turned tricks to make money. But despite Rahab’s checkered past, God moved closer to the miracle in the manger. The Lord reached outside of the church to turn this shameful prostitute into a mother of Jesus. God tied the knot between Salmon and Rahab and blessed them with Boaz, from whom came Jesus, the Kinsman-Redeemer (Matt. 1:5).
Jerusalem is our last stop on the road from the Garden of Eden to the little town of Bethlehem. Here is where King David was on top of the world, and yet he was another ancestor of Jesus who blew it big time. David sinned royally. He slept with another man’s wife. To make matters worse, David murdered his girlfriend’s husband to cover up the child he conceived out of wedlock (2 Sam. 11:27; cf. Ps. 51:1–19). This story reads like one of those tabloid headlines you read at the grocery store checkout lane. David’s sin found him out, and he paid for it dearly. Nevertheless the God of new beginnings broke more ground to pave the way for Advent. From great David came his greater Son Jesus, the perfect pastor of God’s people (Matt. 1:6).
It is literally a miracle that Christmas ever came! No thanks to this rough crowd, the God of grace sent his sinless Son in whom he forgives Adam and Eve’s high treason, Judah and Tamar’s sexual immorality, Rahab’s prostitution, and David’s adultery. That’s the good news of Jesus’ family tree we celebrate this Christmas season. This cast of social riffraff standing in the backdrop of the Advent scene means that there’s room around the cradle for you and me.
We are looking in the mirror when we see these sinners. Come out of the closet with all your skeletons and go to God with your checkered past. Lay all your cards on the table this Christmas. Come clean with Bethlehem’s Baby by admitting that you have sinned royally. Believe in your heart that God laid the King of forgiveness in a manger to wash away all the dirt of sin he has on us.
Confess with your mouth that this man-child was born in Bethlehem’s cradle to die at Calvary’s cross for the forgiveness of your sins (Matt. 1:21). And then unite your voice with this choir of sinners turned saints to thank God for the indescribable gift of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 9:15). Pray like you have never prayed before that God’s surprising grace in the advent of Jesus would shock you into a change of heart and a transformation of life.
There was not much to that first Christmas: an ordinary-looking baby boy born to peasants in a small city and cradled in a feed trough. But because it was not much, it’s a fitting place this Christmas for us to kneel and confess in faith: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (2 Tim. 1:15).
Rev. Kevin Hossink is the pastor of Hudson Valley United Reformed Church of New Hampton, NY.
At the time this article was written, December 2002, Rev. Kevin Hossink was the pastor of the Bethany Covenant Reformed Church in South Holland IL.