O Unholy Night: A Christmas Eve Homily

Have you ever had any family over for dinner that you didn’t like? 

It’s Christmas Eve, and in just about every family there’s always an odd ball out. There’s someone who doesn’t fit in. It’s like the Christmas classic: Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, with the elf who doesn’t want to make toys. We’re a couple of misfits. And the thing is, they’re coming to dinner tonight! Or tomorrow on Christmas Day! 

It’s that dreadful time of the year when you have to get together with someone you don’t want to be around—but now you have to. Has that ever happened to you? Is there someone in your family that you’re pretty embarrassed for your friends or co-workers to find out about? Or are you the one who is feeling left out this Christmas? Are you a misfit?

Well, Jesus had several of them. And the thing is, God wants us to pay attention to these misfits because he’s not embarrassed to call them his family! He’s actually proud of them.

I want us to look at the women listed in Matthew’s Genealogy (Matthew 1:1-16) and then I want to tell you why God is so proud to have them in his family.

The Five Unholy Women Mentioned

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.

The five women mentioned in this genealogy all had bad reputations. 

If you were going to tell people your family history, would you want to point out all the misfits in your line? God is honest with telling us who was in the family.

First there’s a woman named Tamar (See Genesis 38). Tamar’s an interesting choice to list b/c she had her baby out of wedlock. She deceived Judah, her father-in-law, by luring him into her bedroom dressed as a prostitute, and conceived with him. So yeah. But that’s how she’s included in the family line!

Then there’s Rahab (See Joshua 2). Rahab didn’t just dress like a prostitute, she was a prostitute. Her story is, she was entertaining guests…erhem…they happened to be Isralite spies who were hiding, at a brothel. That’s a place to hide. So Rahab protects their cover until Israel wins the war. And she’s made an Israelite, by worshipping God. 

Then, there’s Ruth. We just did a sermon series on her story, but let me summarize: She was a foreigner or refugee. Her husband died so she was widowed. And she was a Moabite, which was a forbidden people group. But this forbidden foreigner ends up mothering King David’s grandpa. So she’s important and her story shows that God has a place for poor widowed foreigners in his plan of salvation.

And then there’s Bathsheba. She’s identified as “the wife of Uriah” in Matthew 1:6. Do you know that story? She was the one bathing on the rooftop, and King David saw her and wanted her. So he called her to his room and got her pregnant. Then murdered her husband to cover it all up. 

And finally, there’s Mary. O Unholy Night, the stars were dark for Joseph. Mary got pregnant out of wedlock. And she claimed that God did it to her. Joseph didn’t believe her at first; she was soiled until an angel appeared to tell him the truth about God's plan. (That would have been my reaction too if my future wife said she was going to have a baby before our wedding day.) But God works in mysterious ways (a miraculous conception), and very ordinary ways too (a normal birth). Jesus’s birth happened, like all births do. Mary would have had a bad reputation though, if it weren’t for Joseph marrying her—covering up what would have been a scandal to unbelieving ears.

What a crazy family history to open up with, huh? The big question it raises is:

How can God welcome such dirty people into his own family and be so proud of it?

We have a woman who dressed like a prostitute to sleep with her father-in-law, an actual prostitute, a pagan, an adulterer, and then Mary who had to deal with pregnancy before marriage. Personally, this sounds like a list you’d just skip over. Am I right? 

Wouldn’t you want to leave out your crazy Aunt Trudy or the cousin that went to prison? WE don’t usually introduce people to the dark past. On social media, people are putting their best faces on and fronts. With Christmas cards too: it’s the family perfectly posed all dressed up. But 3 seconds before the photo it was meltdown city. Nobody is advertising that though, we show off the good picture, the best take. But Not God.

God shows us the worst takes. And God is proud of these women here. God says: they are all part of my family tree. My Son comes from this messed up lineage, because it’s exactly the sort of people that I’m coming for. He does this, because he wants us to know that this is all of us. All of us right here, right now, are like the Rahab’s and Ruth’s of this world. We are in need of a divine baby to come to save us.

So in this kingdom—his kingdom—there is room for sinners. There is room for those with bad reputations. The Gospel announces Jesus as a baby and, ultimately, Savior for all people—Gentiles as well as Jews, women as well as men, black and white and asian and latino, sinners as well as saints!

Only the gospel allows for unholy people like us to come into God’s family. 

Let me tell you something. You might hear these stories and think Oh religion sounds nice, it will help me live better. But these people didn’t get into the kingdom because they wanted to live better. All these people are so unholy that holy Jesus had to die for each of them.

People like Rahab and Ruth, and Bathsheba, even Mary, and you and me all need for Jesus to do what we could not do. We need Jesus to obey God for us. And we need Jesus to die for us so we can truly live.

If you’re a sinner, and if you know that you are one right now, come to Jesus and receive his grace. In Christ, you are loved and accepted. All of your unholy nights—no matter how scandalous—have been turned into the holiest nights of the Holy One. 

Through faith in Jesus, God calls you his family and you are not a misfit anymore. You belong to a family, and your name matters, and your whole life matters. You matter to God. And in Christ, you matter to the people of his church. So come.

Nicholas Davis

San Diego, CA

Rev. Nicholas Davis is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America.

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