There’s a somewhat unusual cast of characters in St. Matthew’s genealogy that is read on the Sunday before Nativity (Matt. 1:1-25). Ancient genealogies, Jewish ones in particular, focused on men. However, this genealogy includes the women Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
Tamar seduced her own father-in-law through trickery, committing incest to bear children. You would think St. Matthew would be tempted to leave this one out!
Ruth was a Moabitess. It was not lawful for Israelites to marry a Moabite. Yet she abandoned her pagan gods and embraced the true God.
The third woman is not even mentioned by name. Instead we read “the wife of Uriah,” to emphasize just how evil it was for King David to steal Uriah’s wife and then murder the poor man. Some Church Fathers held the opinion that Bathsheba went along with the adultery and murder willingly, being enamored with the thought of becoming a queen.
All three of these women were specifically included in the genealogy of the Son of God. When God became man, St. Matthew felt it was important that we know of both the virtuous and scandalous forebearers of our Lord. In this genealogy, we see God embracing every messy part of our humanity. At His Incarnation, He took upon Himself every aspect of our humanity so that it could be healed. And at His death on the Cross, He took our sin upon Himself so that it might be destroyed.
A little later in the pre-Nativity passage (1:21,23), our Lord Jesus is given two names: Emmanuel (God with us) and Jesus (Savior).
We all have a journey that we have been – and that we continue to be on – in this life. Through our highs and lows, joys and sorrows, virtues and sins, God has continued to be Emmanuel. He has been with us, never leaving or forsaking us.
The three women mentioned above can be seen as three phases in our life. Tamar represents our impetuous youth in which we chase after fleshly desires, doing what is inappropriate, unlawful, and even scandalous.
Ruth is a coming to our senses, beginning a life of repentance. As she was a Moabitess coming from a pagan background, we too have a past that may be shameful. But that can be reconciled to God.
Bathsheba is leaving the reconciled, covenant relationship with God. Our soul returns to its former spiritually adulteress desires, seeking a life outside of God’s will. The holy matrimony between our soul and the Lord is broken.
All through these phases of life, God continues to be Emmanuel, the God who is with us. Through the highs and lows, God has stayed near us. But why? Because He loves us and is faithful, even when we are unfaithful (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13).
Last of all, we have Jesus, which is Hebrew for Savior. It is the same Hebrew name as Joshua, the man who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land shortly after Moses’ death.
This Jesus is our Savior, rescuing us from the sinful desires that enslave us, control us, and make us miserable. He heals us, loves us, and brings us into the Promised Land of His eternal Kingdom.
So, we ready ourselves for the remainder of this Nativity Fast so that we can make ourselves ready to meet God-With-Us, the Savior, and the Bridegroom of our souls.