God – one of us. Happy Christmas 2010

Christmas 2010

Marian Free

In the name of God who did not despise the human condition, but embraced it, took it into himself and transformed all that is flawed and imperfect. Amen.

I’d like to share with you a poem which was read to us at General Synod by Clare Amos. The poem is by Michael Goulder.

Exceedingly odd,

Is the means by which God

Has provided our path to the heavenly shore:

Of the girls from whose line

The true light was to shine

There was one an adulteress, one was a whore.

There was Tamar who bore –

What we all should deplore –

A fine pair of twins to her father-in-law;

And Rahab the harlet,

her sins were as scarlet,

As red as the thread which she hung from the door;

Yet alone of her nation

She came to salvation,

And lived to be mother of Boaz of yore;

And he married Ruth,

A Gentile uncouth,

In a manner quite counter to biblical law;

And of her there did spring

Blessed David the King

who walked on his palace one evening,

and saw

The wife of Uriah,

From whom he did sire

A baby that died, oh, and princes a score.

And a mother unmarried

It was too that carried

God’s son, and him laid in a cradle of straw;

That the moral might wait

At the heavenly gate

While the sinners and publicans go in before,

Who have not earned their place

But received it by grace,

And have found them a righteousness not of the law.

(Michael Goulder – sourced from a Bible study at the Anglican General Synod, 2010)

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth begins with a record of Jesus’ ancestry. Matthew’s genealogy is unique – not only does it include five women who break the pattern of x was the father of y, but four, if not all five have questionable pasts. As the poem highlights, the list includes a woman who slept with her father-in-law, a prostitute, a Gentile who got into bed with a man she hoped would marry her, an adulteress and an unmarried mother.

No one really knows why the first four of these were included – was Matthew aiming to shock, to get our attention? Was he a closet feminist who wanted to highlight the role women played in bringing Jesus to birth or did he want to demonstrate the inclusiveness of the gospel? We’ll never know the answer, but whatever Matthew’s intention, the genealogy makes an important point about the Incarnation and about the way in which God works.

By including the four flawed women in his genealogy, Matthew demonstrates that God chose to enter the human condition not in purity and holiness but in all its frailty and ordinariness – choosing among those who would bring him to birth, the vulnerable and the not-so-squeaky clean. Jesus would not have truly reflected human nature if he had not embraced it in its entirety – the good and not so good. Jesus is not some super-human demi-god, but is really one of us – and his ancestry illustrates that. What is more, by becoming as the creed says, “truly human”, Jesus demonstrates once and for all that the fallen human condition is NOT beneath God’s notice, is NOT unworthy of God’s presence and is NOT unable to realize the divine nature within it. God doesn’t appear to take on human form. God really does become fully human, God really does become one of us – accepting for himself a heritage which truly illustrated the imperfections of humanity.

The other side of the anomalous genealogy is that Matthew’s use of the harlot and the prostitute reminds us of God’s ability to see beyond externals to a person’s true qualities and potential. Throughout history, God has used flawed and damaged people to do marvelous and wonderful things. God does not look for perfection in those whom he chooses, but for an ability to be faithful. So he chooses a murderer to lead the people out of Egypt, an adulterer to be the most famous king of Israel, the person who denied Jesus to be the leader of the early church and the person who persecuted Christians to be the most passionate and successful missionary. I could go on. Throughout history many whose lives and actions have transformed the world have had flaws that would lead to their exclusion in a world which expected perfection. Sometimes God chooses the most fragile and unreliable of natural resources from which to make the strongest, most effective and most faithful of disciples.

In becoming one of us, God demonstrates that though frail, human nature is capable of great things, and in choosing a flawed ancestry, God demonstrates that even those who are imperfect can contribute to the divine presence in the world.

The Incarnation is so much more than the baby. It tells us of God’s acceptance of and love for the world that he has made and of his confidence that despite its weaknesses and blemishes it can and will achieve great things.


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