Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sermon: The Christmas (Family) Tree

We’re getting very close to Christmas now, and if you’re going to have one, then you’d be as well to have it got by now. Most houses probably have at least one - some have two or three. Some can be very small; others could be very tall - in fact, too big for the house. They tend to reflect your personal taste - minimalistic; traditional; or ultra modern. What are we talking about? Christmas trees! It’s always fascinating to drive around at this time of year, to notice the very different styles of Christmas tree lit up in people’s living rooms. They tend to stand out, provide a focus for the room, and draw the eye.

This morning in our reading, we have a Christmas tree, standing tall. In fact, it might be the only tree you need this Christmas, so even if you don’t have one in your house, you can have this one. It’s the best one of all.

Perhaps as the new year draws near, you’ll decide that you want to start reading the Bible every day. But rather than starting straight into the Old Testament and working right through it, you think it might be better to start in the New Testament. So you open up your Bible to Matthew 1:1, and your heart sinks. You want to get to reading about Jesus, but it’s more like reading a page from the Jerusalem phone book. All those names, many of them you’ve never heard of, and you wonder, what on earth is Matthew playing at? Why does he start his gospel in this way?

You might be tempted to do what some kids do when they’re counting. We used to play Hide and Seek at a neighbour’s garden. Someone would count and the rest would scarper to climb up into the trees or dive beneath the bushes. Every so often someone would cheat. They’d do this: 1, 2, skip a few, 99, 100, coming, ready or not!

But as we look a bit closer, we discover that this is a family tree - the father of, who was the father of... So let’s climb into this tree today to see what we find. It’s a family tree, but it’s also the Christmas family tree - we wouldn’t have a Christmas Day without this unlikely family tree. So let’s explore it, by using a Christmas tree guide.

The first thing you have to decide when you’re getting a Christmas tree is this - real or artificial? Artificial ones might last you for years, but there’s nothing like the smell and feel and look of a real Christmas tree. And that’s the first thing to notice about this Christmas family tree. It’s real. It’s 100% genuine.

Throughout this term we’ve been following the story of Abraham, the promise God made to give him a son, and the long wait of 25 years before Isaac came along. Each of those names is also a real person, another step down through the generations, another passing along of the promise, another son to fulfil the line to bring us to Jesus.

It’s important to remember this. The Bible isn’t made up the way the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are made up. In those types of stories you find lots of made up names and adventures, but they were all products of JRR Tolkien’s mind. The family tree we find in Matthew 1 is fact; these were all real people. As confirmation, every person from Abraham through to Zerubbabel (12) is mentioned at least once in the Old Testament.

This is the real life fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. It’s a real Christmas family tree. So you’ve decided you want a real Christmas tree. You maybe go along to the tree nursery to pick your tree, or go along to the shop where they are sitting ready to go. You’ll want a good one, a healthy looking one, one that will look good.

If you were looking for a family tree, this might be one to avoid. There are more than a few bad apples growing on this tree. Forget about the names you don’t know, and focus for a moment or two on the names you do. We’ve been working through Genesis and made it as far as Abraham. What we’ve seen this term should remind us that the first generation wasn’t fantastic - doubts, struggles, disobediences like all the rest.

When we come to Jacob, whose name means ‘he deceives’, he’s a slimy trickster, always out to take advantage of you. David might have been king, but he was also an adulterer and murderer (to cover up his adultery). The list of kings that follow him tends to run good king, bad king, good king, bad king - but even the good kings weren’t great. If you were to choose a family tree to work with, to bring the Messiah from, it wouldn’t be this one. You’d write it off, as families sometimes can be written off - too many problems, too many scandals, we’ll politely avoid them...

So you’ve decided you want a real tree; you’ve picked one; when you get it home, then you have to decorate it. In this family tree we’re looking at, we’ve seen that it’s real; that it’s not the best; but it is decorated to the highest standard. The twinkling lights, the things hanging on the tree all point to God’s grace.

Yes, Jacob was a trickster, and David was a murderer, but God shows his grace in using them for his glory, to advance his rescue plan. God’s grace is powerful enough to turn around the worst of sinners, to draw them to himself, and to use them in his plans.

God’s grace is seen especially in this Christmas family tree because of who Matthew includes in it. You see, family trees and genealogies only ever focused on the men. It who who your father was that counted, not who your mum was. The family line was passed on through the father to the son. But Matthew includes the names of five women in this family tree, to highlight and shine a light on God’s grace in a most remarkable way.

Tamar (3) had been wronged by her father-in-law, so tricked him by acting like a prostitute. Yet God used that occasion to advance the line of promise. Rahab (5) was a pagan foreigner prostitute who lived in the city of Jericho up until the moment that Joshua marched the people around the walls and they collapsed. She had hid the spies and converted to Israel’s God because she knew that he was the only true God. The rest of the city died, but she lived, becoming part of this family tree.

Ruth was a Moabite, another foreigner who was brought into the people of Israel, was redeemed by Boaz, and found refuge under the wing of the God of Israel. The wife of Uriah (6) was Bathsheba, who had committed adultery with David.

And finally, there’s Mary. A teenage pregnancy; the talk of the town; another scandal to add to the rest of the family’s history. Yet this is the family that God has chosen, protected and guided. In the weakness and failure, God’s grace shines ever clearer. This was the family Jesus had chosen to join, to be identified with, to fulfil the promise by becoming the son of Abraham (the chosen offspring in whom the nations of the earth would be blessed), the son of David (the royal king who would reign forever), the Messiah (the anointed one). When you look at your tree, even if it’s a bit wonky, or it doesn’t sit as you’d like, remember this Christmas family tree. God is at work to connect the Old Testament to the New Testament, to bring all his promises to be yes in Christ Jesus. God’s grace continues to shine as he brings us into this family, not because of our goodness, but because of his grace.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 21st December 2014.

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