Christmas Thoughts: The Heart of God’s Redemptive Story is Revealed through Mary

The final woman mentioned in the lineage of Jesus is central to God’s redemptive work in human history.

I have written a Christmas series of blog posts on the genealogy in Matthew that sets the stage for the narrative of the birth of Jesus, but I haven’t finished it… until now. The theme is the redemptive work of God in human history through the perspective of the five (5) women mentioned in the genealogy.

If that last statement gave you pause, you may have a hint of the radical nature of that storyline, which is the point of this redemotive story: There are five women mentioned in the genealogy. Five women.  

The Hebrew culture was paternalistic, like all cultures in the Ancient Near East, and almost all cultures down through history (and even now). The oldest male in that culture inherited his father’s estate. Lineage was traced from male to male.

So, what are five women doing in the sacred lineage of Jesus?

That Matthew mentions five women in his genealogy is truly remarkable. We might gloss over it in our modern thinking, maybe even being tempted to sneer that he didn’t include more. That he included ANY women is the the amazing thing.

I described four of those women in previous blog posts. I began with a post that sets out the genealogy in full and links to each of the subsequent blog posts. (Christmas Thoughts: God’s Redemptive Actions Through Women of the Old Testament). The posts continue in the following progression, from oldest to most recent:

  1. Christmas Thoughts: God Redeems the Line of Judah through Tamar;
  2. Christmas Thoughts: Rahab, a Foreign Prostitute & God’s Redemptive Plan;
  3. Christmas Thoughts: Ruth & God, the Kinsman-Redeemer;
  4. Christmas Thoughts: Uriah’s Wife and the Redemption Plan of God

All of the stories I have covered so far are of women from the Old Testament, showing God’s redemptive work leading up to the birth of the long awaited Messiah. The last of the woman is Mary, who gave birth to him.

This piece is inspired by Craig Keener, who has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Christian Origins from Duke University and is a prolific writer of scholarly works on the New Testament, among other things. He was interviewed recently by Preston Sprinkle on Theology in the Raw as part of a series on Christmas.

He contrasts the appearances of an angel to Zechariah (Luke 1:8-22) and to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). The passages are parallels, announcing the birth of the Messiah, but the response of the two are different. The contrast is intended, no doubt, to catch our attention: Zechariah responds with unbelief, while Mary responds, “May it be according to you word!”

The parallelism of the two passages is striking, so the difference in the responses stands out. It is meant to stand out.

Zechariah is an aged man, a priest operating at the center of the life and culture of his people, serving in holiest place in Hebrew culture: in the temple. He is male of course. Zechariah, of all people, might be expected to recognize and embrace God’s great entry into human history and the fulfillment of the long-foretold Messianic prophecies.

Contrasted to him is Mary, a young female (probably in her mid-teens), a relative nobody in a nowhere place in the eyes of that culture. She would not have been privileged to know Scripture like Zechariah She would have no stature, no power, no influence nor importance.

The contrast in status would be more evident to First Century Hebrews, but we can understand it even today. Despite the elevated stature of Zechariah, Mary is the hero of this story. She embraces what the angel says, while Zechariah hesitates in doubt at the threshold of God’s entry into the world.

Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) is one of the most eloquent and poignant responses to God’s redemptive work in all of Scripture.[i] Mary is glorified over the venerable old priest in the story. The spotlight is on her, and

Mary’s words also set the tone for the coming of the Messiah. She says God scatters those who are proud, but He lifts up the humble. He fills the hungry, but he empties the rich.

Leading the way to God’s appearance human history are five women who stand out in Matthew’s genealogy by the very fact that they were included at all. Their stories are at the center of God’s redemptive work and plans for mankind that He envisioned from before the foundations of the world.

The mention of five women in the genealogy of Christ, the Messiah, is no accident. In our western minds, we might tend to gloss over genealogy as a mundane recitation of historic fact. For Hebrews, the composition of a genealogy is not just about fact, but an emphasis of key facts.

The genealogy with the mention of five women sets the stage for the appearance of God. It is foundational and a central a part of that story. Take a moment to consider how utterly unusual that genealogy would have seemed at the time, and it’s significance in story of Jesus. Consider Mary’s grand response to God, and take some time to read the stories of the other women in the lineage of Jesus.


[i] And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

The Story of the Magi Demonstrates the Universality of the Offer of the Gospel to the World

The significance of the story of the Magi at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew

The Adoration of the Magi; Border with the Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, from a prayer book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (text in German), Bruges, Belgium, about 1525-30, Simon Bening. The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Matthew provides us the story of the Magi priests (not kings) visiting Jesus with gifts “from afar”. Magi is a Zoroastrian term referring to “dream interpreting astrologers-astronomers from Persia or Mesopotamia who possessed secret knowledge”.[i] We don’t know the actual number, though three is the popular legend.

The number was postulated by Origen in the Third Century based on the number of gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Feast of the Epiphany, which was first celebrated in Alexandria, Egypt, at the end of the Second Century or beginning of the Third Century (the home of Origen), celebrates the appearance of God to the world who became flesh in the person of the Christ child.

The arrival of the Magi is acknowledgement of the worldwide, universal significance of the event.

“Matthew’s story about travelers following the trail of a mysterious star was all about including ‘foreigners’ in the Christmas story. Matthew showed Gentiles—in other words non-Jews, people who worshipped so-called pagan gods—acknowledging Jesus as king and, presumably, savior.”

The universal availability of Jesus beyond the Jewish community into which Jesus was born to the world is built right into the beginning of the narrative in Matthew. It resonates with Paul’s letters in which he maintains, to his own detriment among his fellow Jews, that Christ came for Jew and Gentile, alike.

That the offering of God in the flesh to the world which is built into the very beginning of the story was first celebrated in the Feast of the Epiphany in Northern Africa is intriguing to me. Though the Magi would have come from a different area of the world, the point of the story is the universality of Christ.

We also forget how prominent in early Christian history was the African church. This intrigues me as well.

The story in Matthew is only 12 verses long (Matt. 2:1-12). A longer version of the story exists in one other manuscript, the “Revelation of the Magi”.[ii] This Syriac text that was translated into English only recently is apocryphal and likely dates to the Second or Third Century.[iii] It depicts the wise men coming from Shir, which is in China today.

Like many apocryphal texts, it smacks of myth and legend (the star they follow comes down and transforms into the baby Jesus). It is a whimsical story, perhaps, like the Chronicles of Narnia.

While the Revelation of the Magi is apocryphal and fantastical in its details, the idea that men came from the Far East is not. The Spice Route that comes into Jerusalem connects all the way to China and can be observed still today.

I have meditated before on the thought that Jesus came at just the right time in history when much of the known world was unified by a system of Roman roads and order opening the world to the west and north (to the British isles) for the spread of the Gospel. So also, we see that the Spice Route opened the world for the spread of the Gospel to the east, just as other trade routes allowed the Gospel to spread south into Africa, with Alexandria being one of the three pillars of early Christian authority.

While I am very familiar with Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and faithful devotion to the promise God made to Abraham to bless all the nations through his seed, I had not noticed the significance of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew (a more Jewish-orientated Gospel).

Continue reading “The Story of the Magi Demonstrates the Universality of the Offer of the Gospel to the World”

Christmas Thoughts: God Redeems the Line of Judah through Tamar

Originally posted on Navigating by Faith:
(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view…


Families and Christmas can be messy. The vast majority of us do not live in a Hallmark world. The fact that Christmas season always sees an uptick in the incidence of suicide is testament to the fact that the gap between Holiday cheer and reality can be a big on

But there is hope! Christmas is the remembrance of God stepping into world like a light shining in the darkness.

Last year at this time, I began a series of blogs on the women listed in the genealogical lineage of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. That a total of five women are even listed in his genealogy is kind of mind blowing. Genealogies, especially in the First Century patriarchal world, are dominated by men. What are these women doing there?

It occurs to me that maybe God is saying something particularly important by including five women in the genealogy of Jesus.

For starters, God’s view of women, I believe, has always been higher than patriarchal history gives them credit. After all, God made us, male and female, in His image. Men are only half the image of God if you do the math.

But something else is going on as well. When you dig into the stories of the people in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, surprises are plentiful. His lineage isn’t particularly saintly. It’s “complicated”.

Jesus came not only as a light in the darkness of the world; he came as a light in the darkness of his own lineage. The story of Tamar is just one such example. She is the first woman listed in that lineage.

Navigating by Faith

 (c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view that today?

We can gain insights by looking at the women who are listed. The first woman listed is Tamar. Her story is found in Genesis 38, and it is a wild one for people of polite sensibilities.

Tamar was the wife of Judah’s oldest son, Er. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob (son of Isaac, son of Abraham). It might seem odd that Judah, the fourth son, is the one from whom Jesus (the Messiah) descends, but that is only a minor oddity compared to the rest.

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Christmas Thoughts: Uriah’s Wife and The Redemption Plan of God

from https://leadershipspirit.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/david-and-bathsheba-2.jpg

My Christmas thoughts a year ago were focused on the women in the genealogy that Matthew included in the beginning of his Gospel. Tamar, Rahab and Ruth are all stories of redemption foreshadowing the ultimate redemption story when God entered into our story, which is ultimately His story. The grand story of global redemption is what we celebrate at Christmastime, and these women are all instrumental in that global redemption story.

A total of five women are listed in the patriarchal lineage included at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. The oddity of including women in a patriarchal lineage bears some investigation. Indeed, we find the redemptive theme when we look into it, and, that theme continues with the next woman on the list, but with a twist.

The twist begins with the fact that the next woman isn’t even named! The genealogy in Matthew reads like this:

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife[i]

Another oddity signals that something is different here. The stories of Tamar and Ruth were stories of kinsman-redeemers, women who embraced the shelter and protection of the relatives of their deceased husbands and, thereby, gave birth to sons who would carry on the line that would eventually lead to Jesus, the Christ (Messiah). All of the first three women, including Rahab, are also stories of faith and God’s faithfulness.

The story of “Uriah’s wife” is another example of God’s faithfulness, but human side of the story is one of unfaithfulness. Bathsheba is the mother who had been Uriah’s wife. She isn’t named for a scandalous reason.

Continue reading “Christmas Thoughts: Uriah’s Wife and The Redemption Plan of God”

Christmas, Taxes and a Heart for God

What do Christmas, taxes and King David have to do with each other? You might be surprised to find out.

Archaeological site, City of David in Jerusalem, Israel 


This blog article is prompted by a Christmas tax article. Yes, Christmas and income taxes go together. Who would’ve thunk it?!

In Luke 2:1, we read that Caesar Augustus sent out a decree for a census. It turns out the census was declared so that the Caesar could tax people.

That fact, though, isn’t what caught my eye or what prompts this article, though. The article is also not about unjust taxes that burden the poor and avoid the rich. This article also isn’t about the controversy over whether Luke is accurate about the census and the timing of it.

What prompts me to write this piece is the reference to a previous census and previous tax and the surprising and shocking instigator of that tax – the man of God who allowed it to happen, David.

Continue reading “Christmas, Taxes and a Heart for God”