For millions, Jerusalem is the center of the world. This is the city David built, for which the Jews mourned in exile. Jesus prayed and wept over Jerusalem. The prophet Ezekiel reimagined this city as the place where God’s divine glory would be displayed among the nations (Ezek 47). Yet in spite of this, the little village of Bethlehem could make its own legitimate claim to be the true center of the world. In the humble, hidden ways of God, the lives of four women who were ancestors of Jesus point to Bethlehem as the place where all of our stories find their center.
Matthew’s Gospel lists Ruth, Tamar (Gen 38), Rahab (Josh 2) and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11) among forty-two generations of Jesus’ ancestors. Including women in this recorded genealogy of Israel’s Messiah was unheard of, and including these women was stunning. Ruth the Moabite, Rahab the Canaanite, Bathsheba the Hittite, and perhaps Tamar, are not Jews. Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba are widows with unusual relationships with their children’s fathers. Rahab is a prostitute. How do these women connect us all to Bethlehem?
They prepare us for the irregularity of Jesus’ birth and the scandalous inclusiveness of Jesus’ message. These unlikely women, their children, and their stories lead us to the stories of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the magi who make their way to meet Jesus in Bethlehem. Jesus is born outside the norm. He lived among Gentiles in Egypt and probably worked alongside Gentiles at Sepphoris, the new Roman city near Nazareth.
Ultimately, Jesus welcomes outcasts, touches untouchables, invites children into his arms, and leads sinners to his table. Irregulars, outsiders, and outcasts fully share in God’s redemptive plan. While we await the New Jerusalem, we celebrate God’s hidden glory, which shines from Bethlehem upon all us irregulars.
Why does God love and use so many who are considered outsiders?
God, thank you for loving, forgiving, and including us all. Amen.