St. Matthew 1: 1-17
The genealogy of Jesus has two definite goals. One is the traditional need to show the Davidic succession and two is the more non-traditional goal to show the relationship of vulnerability with spirituality. The passage in St. Mathew is read haltingly and is listened to with not the same eagerness as other passages. Perhaps too many names and difficult names at that put off the congregation. But what is in store is quite a bit when we try to identify what kind of a spirituality we can seek during Christmas.
We are always behind secure things. A news editor who wanted change in his office finally became silent during the critical meeting with the owners of the news channel because he was reminded of the EMI’s he had to pay that month. Security which is of this world is difficult because it asks for compromise and compromise leads to silence and stepping back. Christmas is one of the times when security is paramount in our mind but should it be like that? What is the message of the genealogy of Jesus? Is it security or is it vulnerability? The Davidic line of Jesus which the writer is trying to portray may suggest security but some of the characters in the genealogy do not suggest that.
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba) and Mary are the women who are mentioned in the genealogy. They were all suspect of doing something which was different from traditional society. One could say that they did something out of marriage and a traditional family setting. At the end it was seen as good but traditional society would have not allowed it and neither will it do so now. These women did not just think about their security but worked around their vulnerability. Tamar is subject to abuse and humiliation and is forced to prove her worth. Rahab is seen as a sex worker and she sticks her neck out in the secure environs she lived in. Ruth is a widow who has to be with her mother in law because she is vulnerable after the death of her husband. She does what no one else would do. Ruth is also abused and she survives in her environment of abuse. Uriah’s wife Bathsheba is loathed and raped by David who then gets Uriah killed in battle. She has to stand David while mourning the loss of her husband and gives birth to Solomon who succeeds David as king. Finally, Mary conceives out of wedlock and gives birth to Jesus. All the women leave a life of security and struggle with their vulnerable lives. The birth of Jesus this way comes out of vulnerability and not the security of an assured line of kingly succession.
It is important for us to identify our vulnerability this Christmas. Being secure is not being close to God but close to societal norms and wrong traditions. Being vulnerable on the other hand is having faith in God even when everything around is bad. Some of us are already living vulnerable lives and Christmas is a time to imagine that Jesus was born out of such vulnerability. How else would we preach and wish Christmas in a place like Aleppo in Syria where there are unimaginable sufferings to the public. All the ordinary people are vulnerable to abuse, bombings, hunger, capture and torture. In effect Christ is born in places like Aleppo because vulnerability is at its peak there. Our houses can only reflect the security of Christmas whereas shelters and non-existent roads in Aleppo and other places reflect a vulnerable Christmas where Christ is born because the birth of Jesus as we see is associated with vulnerability.
Our Christmas symbolism is filled with definite things. The Christmas tree, stars, decorations, carol rounds, Christmas services, cakes, sweets and cards all show a secure and happy Christmas. The birth of Jesus was in a time of fear and insecurity and yet people said yes to a fallible security offered by the ruling dispensation. Those who went to see Jesus tried to associate with the vulnerability of his birth and those associated with it. The interpretation of vulnerability does not seek to discount and do away with the spirit of celebration during Christmas. It rather looks at the hope that the birth of Jesus offers in the midst of our vulnerable lives. There is no secure life, secure password, secure spirituality or secure Christmas. We are vulnerable always and we do not need to forget that during Christmas. Rather like the five women in the genealogy of Jesus, we must pull on and move forward finding ways to live and survive. The birth of Jesus signifies life in the midst of death and suffering. The women in St. Mathew show us just that.