During December, different people across the Diocese of Bristol arereflecting on what Advent and Christmas mean to them.
Here, Rev Nicola Such, a curate inWroughton, considers how four women'sstories in the Gospel of Matthew set the scene for the story of Jesus.
Only Luke and Matthew give an account of the events surrounding Jesus conception and birth- yet its important information because in the early church there were many questions about the details of Jesus life, including when it was that he became divine.
Some argued that it was at his resurrection, others at his baptism, but Matthew makes it very clear at the start of his gospel that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was divine right from the start.
And what a start it was... Mary and Joseph were in that in-between stage in the marriage customs of their time. Having made certain commitments to each other, they were waiting for Joseph to have a place ready for them to be able to fully begin their married life, when Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant- and it cant be his.
This would make a great episode of the Jeremy Kyle Show, wouldnt it? Husband-to-be discovers that his betrothed is pregnant- and it isnt his child - what a shocker!
We have become so familiar with the story these days that we forget how strange it would have sounded at the time.
With this in mind, Matthew prepares his readers for it right from the start of his writing in a way that is easy for us to skip over - one of those long lists of family names. Traditionally these lists would follow the fathers line, yet this one has some additional threads - four women - and each of these women is deliberately woven in by Matthew to serve a purpose in setting the scene for Jesus....
First we have Tamar, and her story would make juicy reading on the front pages of any tabloid even today. In Genesis 38 we hear how she is cheated by her father-in-law, Judah, and decides to take action by dressing as a prostitute to become pregnant by him.
Then we have Rahab, a prostitute living in Jericho, and in Joshua 2 we read how she courageously hid some of Joshuas spies, how she bargained for the lives of her family and declared her faith in God.
Next we have Ruth, a faithful woman but also an outsider, who followed the designs of her mother-in-law to find a rather unusual way into the Israelite clan.
And finally there is Uriahs wife, Bathsheba. Having committed adultery with her, we read in 2 Samuel 11 how King David tried to hide his tracks by having her husband Uriah killed. But he couldnt hide his sin from God.
Each of these four womens stories is selected by Matthew to demonstrate something important he wants to point to in the ministry of Jesus. We might take some time to ponder on what that might be.
Perhaps in Tamars story we can see how Judah appears to be righteous and yet it is Tamar that the narrator declares the righteous one. How might Judah and Tamar demonstrate the inner and outer righteousness that Jesus speaks of?
And Rahab? Something about her actions caused Joshua and the people of God to reconsider where they were going to draw the boundaries of who was in and who was out that day. Perhaps it is the same challenge to definitive ideas about who is included and who is not that Matthew also wants to point to in his portrayal of Jesus?
Does Ruths faithfulness herald the fact that it is often the faithful Gentiles who respond more appropriately to Jesus than the Israelites themselves; and those who appear to be on the margins that find themselves included?
And might the story of David and Bathsheba remind Matthews readers about God's forgiveness and mercy towards sinners - the sinners that Jesus himself has come to seek and save?
Matthew presents Jesus to us as very definitely divine, and coming to seek those who are truly righteous, welcoming the faithful outsider and forgiving the repentant sinner. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, all demonstrate these aspects of Jesus life and ministry in Matthews genealogy, and their stories offer us threads to see something bigger about God.
Perhaps this Advent we might take time to consider where the threads of God's story run in our lives for others to see. Where will they find righteousness, faith, loyalty and forgiveness in our stories?
And how will they learn that it is Jesus who we point to, Jesus who saves us, embraces us and transforms us, unless we tell them?
Rev Nicola Such
Curate, Wroughton Parish Church