The Good News of Grace

Let’s be honest: how many of us include the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel in our yearly advent scripture readings? While I can read about shepherds and angels and magi and miraculous stars all day long, my eyes glass over before I get to Amminadab. But after reading Gail Godwin‘s piece in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and ChristmasI’m ready to turn to the gospel of Matthew and reread the list with fresh eyes and a grateful heart. 

Here’s what has stirred my heart up, in Ms. Godwin’s own words:

“The ‘story of the origin of Jesus Christ’ begins with Abraham begetting Isaac; no mention of that deserving elder son, poor unfairly banished Ishmael. Then Isaac begets Jacob; not a word about his elder brother Esau whose birthright Jacob stole. Jacob begets Judah and his brothers; why is Judah chosen and not the good and extraordinary Joseph? 

Now that’s the interesting part. For reasons unknown to us, God may select the Judahs who sell their brothers into slavery, the Jacobs who cheat their way to first place, the Davids who steal wives and murder rivals – but also compose profound and beautiful psalms of praise. 

And what about the five women Matthew chooses to include? Not a mention of Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel, the upstanding patriarchal wives of Israel. Instead, Tamar the Canaanite who disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law to get a son out of him. And Rahab, another Canaanite and a real prostitute this time. And Ruth the Moabite, another outsider. And Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, is named only as the wife of Uriah whom King David had killed so he could marry her himself. Every one of these women used as God’s instrument had scandal or aspersion attached to her – as does the fifth and final woman named in the genealogy; Mary, the mother of Jesus, with her unconventional pregnancy. 

Matthew’s genealogy is showing us how the story of Jesus Christ contained – and would continue to contain – the flawed and inflicted and insulted, the cunning and the weak-willed and the misunderstood. His is an equal opportunity ministry for crooks and saints.” 

This is truly great news for fatally flawed human beings like you and me, who labor under the shame of not being good enough, of feeling like we are always failing. We carry guilt, real and imagined, and are often reluctant to approach God because, like a naughty child, we can’t bring ourselves to look him in the eye. We feel like other people are doing great things for God. Other people have effective ministries, write world-changing books, travel the world speaking for God, and always look good doing it. Other people are extraordinary; they seem to do everything right – they are the insiders, touched by the angels. And then there’s me. 

But as I read this list of outcasts, sinners, and an assortment of thoroughly unremarkable people that we know nothing about, I can’t help but think that if God can use them, he can use you and me. They were human, just like us; marred and broken, just like us. Yet still deeply loved by their Creator and used by him to accomplish his divine purposes. So why not us?

After all, it’s not about our weakness, but his power; not about our flaws, but his perfection; not about our sin, but his forgiveness; not about our shame but his mercy; not about our fears but his perfect love; not about our chains but his freedom; not about our flawed humanity but his glorious majesty. It’s not about us, but about God with us and Christ in us, the hope of glory. Good news of great joy for everyone everywhere!

 Brothers and sisters, consider who you were when God called you to salvation. Not many of you were wise scholars by human standards, nor were many of you in positions of power. Not many of you were considered the elite when you answered God’s call. But God chose those whom the world considers foolish to shame those who think they are wise, and God chose the puny and powerless to shame the high and mighty. He chose the lowly, the laughable in the world’s eyes—nobodies—so that he would shame the somebodies. For he chose what is regarded as insignificant in order to supersede what is regarded as prominent, so that there would be no place for prideful boasting in God’s presence. For it is not from man that we draw our life but from God as we are being joined to Jesus, the Anointed One.- 1 Corinthians 1:26-30 (Passion Translation)