Christmas Seen through the Stories of a Con-Artist, Harlot, Immigrant, Adulterer and a Middle Eastern Refugee
by Malika Cox
Pic by Sari Wynne Ruff
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year - the festivities, the food traditions, time with family, Christmas carols, gift-giving and especially gift-receiving. As much as I do love these things I love the Spirit behind Christmas more. I love the heart of the message which is God’s gift to the world.
I think a beautiful picture of this gift can be seen through the genealogy of Christ. It is easy to skip the genealogy but if you take the time to read it you will find that Matthew mentions five women. Five just happens to be the Biblical number for grace.
What is interesting is that these women are all either marginalized or a bit scandalous. In the mix we have a con artist, a harlot, an immigrant, an adulteress and a refugee.
Tamar: I remember the first time I read her story, I thought, wait, what? This is not one of the Bible stories you heard in Sunday school when you were a child. As the story goes, Judah the patriarch marries his son Er to Tamar. However, Er dies, and the tradition of the day was for a brother to fulfill the duties by marrying his brother's widow to produce an heir. Judah tries to marry Tamar to one of his reluctant other sons, but he dies as well. Judah then stops offering his sons to Tamar. In that day a woman without a father, husband or son would often be left penniless and vulnerable. She might be caught in the trap of prostitution or begging at the gate. The beggars often would gouge their eyes out or do other self-mutilation to elicit sympathy in hopes for alms.
Tamar, seeing that she is not being given a husband, disguises herself as a prostitute. She places herself in her father-in law's path one day. She ends up pregnant and Judah finds out. He plans to have her killed according to the law but she reveals that she was the one dressed as a prostitute and is pregnant with, as it turns out, his babies (twins), Perez and Zerah. Judah proclaims that Tamar was more “righteous” than he. Tamar’s future ends up secure, she becomes a matriarch and ends up in the genealogy of Christ.
Rahab: Rahab is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a harlot. Josephus the secular historian wrote that Rahab was an innkeeper. Whether the inn was a hotel or a brothel we don’t know. We don’t know a lot about her but we do know that Rahab would have had very little social standing in society. Whatever her standing was, she had great faith in the God who delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptians. When the Hebrew spies came into the land of Jericho, Rahab protected them, even knowing that she was risking her life.
The soldiers repaid her by sparing her and her family when they invaded Jericho. Rabbinic teaching indicates that she converted to Judaism after the invasion and legend has it that she married a soldier, possibly even the leader Joshua. We don’t know if those things are true but we do know she made it into the genealogy and is mentioned as the mother of Boaz in the Book of Ruth.
Ruth the Moabite: Ruth’s story begins with her mother and father-in-law, Naomi and Elimelech who left Israel for Moab because of a famine. Their sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah, and then tragedy strikes. The father and the sons die leaving the women vulnerable.
Naomi decides to face her fate alone and return to Israel. She encourages her daughters-in-law to return to their families. However, one refuses to leave her. Ruth follows Naomi back to Israel where she will be an immigrant, a stranger in the land. Ruth chooses to leave everything she knows that is familiar and the security of her father’s house to ensure that Naomi would not be left alone and vulnerable. In Israel Ruth finds herself gleaning wheat in a wealthy bachelor’s field and she ends up marrying Boaz the son of Rahab. They have a baby Obed who becomes the grandfather of King David and who is in the lineage of Christ. Naomi proclaims that Ruth is better than seven sons.
Queen Bathsheba: Bathsheba may be one of the most scandalous women of the Bible and yet possibly the most praised. Most of us know the story of David and Bathsheba. King David saw Bathsheba bathing from the palace rooftop and even though he had many wives and concubines he desired this married woman and summoned her to the palace. Bathsheba, who most likely loved her husband, had no say in the matter because of her status as a woman and as a subject of the King.
When David finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant, he sends Bathsheba’s husband, who is one of his noble soldiers, to the battlefield to be murdered. David and Bathsheba marry but the baby is stillborn. Bathsheba’s situation seems hopeless.
However, she must have chosen to move forward in life because an ode to womanhood is written about her in the Bible. David and Bathsheba have another son, King Solomon. Rabbinic tradition and most scholars agree that Solomon wrote Proverbs 31 about his mother. The Proverbs 31 woman is wise and strong, she is caring and compassionate, she stands up for the poor and needy and she is capable, successful and an entrepreneur. No matter what tragedy and scandal surrounded Bathsheba in her youth she ended up highly praised in the Bible as a woman of virtue and made it into the genealogy of Christ.
Mary, the mother of Jesus: We all know the story of Mary because it is at the core of our Christmas story. As a teenager Mary receives a Heavenly message that she is going to give birth to ‘Immanuel’, God with us. She is not married and has not known a man. It will take a miracle for this to happen and yet she simply believes.
After the birth of Jesus a brutal infant genocide takes place in Mary’s homeland, which is being occupied by the Romans. Her husband Joseph takes her and her son Jesus and escapes to Egypt for two years where they live as refugees. The family would have been treated as foreigners and most likely scorned for being outsiders. This could be why Jesus said that when you take care of the hurting, the hungry, the forgotten, and the displaced you have done it for me.
Mary endured hardship as she stepped into her calling to bring God to the world, but because of her faith she became the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and by her own prophetic words all generations call her blessed.
These women all suffered, were outcasts, were marginalized, and were forgotten, but not by God. He redeems each one and causes them to flourish. They are a picture of the beautiful bride of Christ, the church. We’ve all been a fraud, we’ve all played the harlot, we’ve all been the outsider, been a cheat and a stranger. However now through the gift of God, Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross, we are rescued from destruction, redeemed from our past, restored to our original purpose, and reconnected to our Heavenly Father. We all can receive the abundant supply of grace and the gift of righteousness to reign in life.
This Christmas we can go beyond the festivities and fun and be a light in someone’s darkness: help out a single parent who may be struggling financially, call those we know who are grieving a loved one, treat the stranger on the side of the road with generosity and compassion, welcome refugee families into our lives as if they are Joseph, Mary and Jesus.