by Bekah Vickers
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. — John 1:9-12
He was in the world. – The Birth Story is God’s Story, present throughout Scripture. In the meditations for this week, we are exploring the mystery of Incarnation as well as the ways that the Nativity Story echoes God’s Bigger Story throughout Scripture, revealing that Christ “was in the world” from the beginning.
Read Matthew 1:1-17
While God’s people awaited the promised Messiah, God carefully crafted His plans for this Incarnation. And in doing so, He prompted His holy scribes to record the stories of Israel’s finest – alongside stories of Israel’s darkest moments. And in many of those stories are individual characters whose lives are recorded in incredible detail – such that even the most intimate (and sometimes most shameful) moments of their lives are known to us millennia later.
Scripture tells us how Tamar, unlucky in having been chosen to marry Judah’s wicked offspring, is then further humiliated by the pitfalls of levirate marriage, and finally bears all the blame for her husbands’ depravity; ultimately, she chooses to fight for her own survival by assuming the role of a prostitute and tricking her own father-in-law into sleeping with her. This does little for her reputation, of course, but it does ensure that she has the children who are so crucial to her survival in this ancient world. (Genesis 38)
Scripture later introduces us to the woman whose betrayal of her own countrymen gives Israel the necessary intel to prepare for battle with Jericho. Rahab – likely an actual prostitute this time – saves the lives of the Israelite spies and gives incredible testimony of her belief in their God; as a result, she and her family are spared when the walls of Jericho fall. (Joshua 2)
An entire book of scripture is dedicated to the life of Ruth, a foreigner from the land of Moab. Her people were descended from the incest of Lot, and they had been cursed by the Lord because of their ill-treatment of Israel. Nevertheless, we know Ruth was faithful to her Israelite mother-in-law and demonstrated such integrity as a poor immigrant in Bethlehem that she draws the attention of the upstanding Boaz, and he takes her under his wing and provides a future for her (and Naomi) for which she had not even dared to dream. (Ruth 1-4)
And finally, we get every detail of the illicit affair of David and Bathsheba. Not even David’s status as a “man after God’s own heart” can protect him from scripture’s scrutiny of this dark moment when he fed his desire and sought to escape the consequences rather than protecting his kingdom and honoring his God. Bathsheba suffers at his hand not only the shame of adultery (and quite possibly rape) but also the loss of husband and infant son. (2 Samuel 11-12)
These are the kinds of stories that most families would choose to downplay or all-out erase from their family history. At the very least, we might edit out the unsavory details – no one needs to know that Rahab and Ruth were foreigners, or that Tamar and Bathsheba had illegitimate pregnancies.
But not God. In the lineage of Christ Himself, we come face to face with one messy life after another. We are read in on stories that should have been redacted. We know the parts that seem the worst – why?
Each of these women might have quite literally died in her sins and circumstances. Tamar was about to be burned at the stake, Rahab was days away from being crushed in the walls of her own home, Ruth had nothing but poverty and starvation to look forward to, and even the king couldn’t manage to conceal the evidence of Bathsheba’s sin, for which she might legally be stoned. But instead, God redeemed their lives. And not only that, He brought about His promised Messiah through the children that these women could not otherwise have borne. Through their very messy lives, we get a very real foretaste of what it is that this Messiah has to offer. Redemption is His mission. No wonder it’s also the theme of His lineage.
Is your life messy? Or perhaps your situation or family history? God redeems messy lives. He works in those moments of our deepest disgrace by shining the light of His love, a love that is neither afraid of nor surprised by our sin and shame. And then He rewrites our stories so that it is in the very moment of our own scandal that His grace turns things around, using even the consequences of our sins for His greatest glory and our greatest good.