This is the first sermon of our Christmas series that explores the five women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew. Here, the story of Tamar from Genesis 38 is told and we are introduced to what Christmas means for women in a culture that is shaped by misogyny.
This sermon launches a Christmas series that introduces the five women who are named in Jesus’ genealogy found in Matthew. This sermon explores the story of Tamar and how her story relates to our life today.
Ancient people were much more aware of the importance of family history than modern westerners. In the ancient Jewish world, genealogies were very important because it was a way of saying “this is us.” These ancient genealogies were not exhaustive because the purpose was not simply to state facts about their past. The purpose was to tell the story of a family and of a tribe or nation. Therefore, genealogies usually listed the ancestors who were most worth remembering.
In the ancient world in general, and ancient Jewish world in particular, men were regarded as inherently more important than women. In fact, women were seen as less than fully human. You don’t typically find women in ancient genealogies, however, we do find them in Matthew’s genealogy, and that is significant.
Tamar was the mother of Perez from whom Jesus descended. We must ask, then, why would Matthew include Tamar in Jesus’ story about who He is. How is Tamar’s story part of the story of Jesus?
We read about the story of Tamar in Genesis 38. Here we read that Tamar is the wife of Judah’s first-born son, Er, who died. As was the custom at the time, Tamar was given to the second son, Onan, who also died. This would mean that Tamar would be given to Shelah, when he got old enough, but she had to wait as a widow to do so. Judah actually blamed Tamar for the death of his two sons, as it was always viewed as the woman’s fault.
Judah is actually trying to remove Tamar from his family with no intention of allowing Shelah to marry her. For years, Tamar must remain in mourning until she marries Shelah, as she is not available for a different husband. Judah does this knowing full well that cutting Tamar out of the family would likely lead her to a life of destitution and prostitution.
Tamar realized that she’d been lied to and is being unjustly positioned to be cut out of the family. She takes off her widow’s garb and dresses up like a prostitute – which, included wearing a veil over her face. Judah slept with her, and she got pregnant.
Upon learning of her pregnancy, Judah assumed that she was a whore and should die. Judah displayed the outrage of a disgraced holy man which calls for the most severe execution – burning alive. She comes out and states that she was pregnant by the man who owned the seal-and-cord and the staff, which Judah had given her.
When we read this story in its cultural context, the massive misogynistic injustice that was heaped upon this poor woman stands out. In an otherwise hopeless situation, Tamar used the only two resources women in this culture had available to them, her brain and her body. She used them to find a way to survive in a completely sick patriarchal system that was stacked against her. This is how Tamar cleverly secured her place in the family and gave birth to twins, one of whom carried on the bloodline that Jesus descended from.
Tamar’s story is part of Jesus’ Christmas story because one of the foundational reasons Jesus came into this world was to bring an end to the kind of injustices Tamar and women throughout history have suffered. When any culture gives all rights to men and none to women, this is the work of the devil. Christmas is about ending that. Tamar is part of Jesus’ story because the coming of Jesus is for the freeing, humanizing, restoring of all the Tamars of the world.
In Christ, there is neither male nor female, for we are all part of one new human race in which all dividing walls, hierarchies, power-over structures, and unjust privileging of one group over another are done away with. In Christ, the original truth that men and women are equal in the image of God is finally restored and lived out.
This confronts the common misogyny that still pervades our culture and even the church today. We are part of a church at Woodland Hills that passionately celebrates that Jesus’ coming means women are free to fulfill their calling in all kinds of ways as a part of God’s kingdom. Men and women are equal alongside one another because of the coming of Jesus, and today we aim to be a church that fosters this reality.
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