If you are like me, then you too may know the story of the birth of Jesus pretty well with all the little details that the gospels give us. And even though I can tell that story from memory, I confess I do not give much attention to the first 17 verses of Matthew 1. I know the verses are full of names and the genealogy of Jesus. Even though I have not spent much time on those verses, I know that amid the many names of the male persons of Jesus’ family tree are a few women.
I have always been fascinated by these women. Why do they find a place in the genealogy? Why are they so special? In a world that was so male-dominated, how did they get their name inserted into the document?
One of the things I have observed about these women is that they are identified not for who they are but for who they gave birth to. Of the four women mentioned, excluding Mary, I find myself attracted most towards Ruth.
Ruth is a Moabite woman. She marries a man from Bethlehem. She becomes the foreigner in the family and as a foreigner, she finds a place in the genealogy of Jesus. As an Immigrant, I connect with Ruth. I know the life and the struggles of an Immigrant. I know what it means to be a stranger. I know the feeling when we do not understand the culture, the language or the people. I know how Ruth may have felt in a family that was not part of her own culture. Ruth stays strong. She survives but she also challenges us. In our world today-
- where Immigration is such a controversial issue,
- where we are constantly thinking of tightening our borders and toughening our Immigration laws, and
- where we keep refusing those who come to our country as refugees and asylum seekers
Jesus’ family tree reminds us to welcome strangers and points to the idea that Jesus’ ministry will include all people- even those who are considered aliens, strangers, outsiders, refugees or asylum seekers.
After the death of her first husband, Ruth moves to Bethlehem, with her mother-in-law Naomi. She leaves the familiar, stays faithful to her mother-in-law and comes to live in a strange land. As a woman, I connect with Ruth. I connect with the many times we pay little attention to our needs but are willing to sacrifice everything to keep our family members happy and content. Ruth’s sacrifice makes Naomi find another husband for Ruth, and she finally gives birth to the child that will become part of Jesus’ genealogy. Ruth seems powerless but in that powerlessness reminds us that when we think less of our own good but focus on the needs and welfare of others, we find amazing blessings coming our way. We find God opening doors that we did not even know existed. Ruth found herself named in the story of Jesus’ birth.
Ruth was first a foreigner in an Israeli family and then becomes an alien resident in a foreign land. Ruth had to make some choices that she was not convinced she needed to make. Anyone could easily lose hope in the situation. But Ruth did not give up hope. She continued to dream and trust and have visions. She continued to think of herself less and more of others and God fulfilled the promise to be always faithful to humankind.
As we live in this last week of Advent and prepare our hearts, homes and lives for the coming of the Christ-child, I pray that we always learn from Ruth. I pray that we trust in God’s faithfulness and live as people of hope. I pray that we will work towards making room for the ‘other’ in our world and in our communities. I pray that we will make efforts to welcome strangers with open arms and minds. I pray that we will think of others before we worry about our own needs. I pray that we always find strength within ourselves, to stand up against anything that is oppressive and unfair and unethical. I pray that whenever we feel like giving up, we will look at the life of Ruth and find renewed strength to keep on moving forward. May we learn to trust like Ruth, to give like Ruth and to honor the other.
Some commentators have also suggested that all the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus lived lives that were shady. However, I am not going to focus on that. Instead I will continue to HOPE for love, joy and peace in this season of Advent and Christmas.
Rev. Alka Lyall is an ordained elder in the Northern Illinois Conference. She is a life-long Methodist, growing up in the Methodist Church in India. She came to the United States in 1996 as a seminary student. Alka is at the table fighting for the inclusion of those who continue to be voiceless and excluded. Currently she serves as co-pastor at Broadway United Methodist in Chicago.