Gail Goodwin, in Watch for the LIght, looks at the potentially boring geneology of Jesus (see Matthew 1:1-17). It takes over three minutes to read and mentions names that you've never heard of in the Bible. Most of us skip right over it. But the Jews of Jesus' day knew their Bible and every name meant something. Strung together, the names each told a story and made a powerful point.
Abraham was a reformed pagan. Isaac was the second try after a bastard child. Jacob was that shifty guy who stole the birthright from his brother. Judah was one of the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery. And Tamar, now that's an interesting story! She was a Canaanite who disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law Judah to get a son out of him. Or how about Rahab, the prostitute that was saved from Jericho for helping the spies escape. She ended up as a great, great, great grandmother of Jesus.
As long as we are discussing the women, there's also Ruth and Bathsheba. Ruth was an outsider from Moab. I'm sure it was a disappointment to Boaz's parents that their son looked to someone other than a Jew for a wife. And we all know about Bathsheba. The wife of Uriah whom David slept with and conceived a child. To cover up the scandal he had her husband sent to the front lines of battle to be killed.
I bet your family tree is looking pretty good by now! David's "problem" with Bathsheba was just one of a long list of sin. Then his son Solomon worshipped gods that required child sacrifice. Rehoboam, his son, split the kingdom in two. It's a sad list for sure. There's more names but I don't have the space and you don't have the time!
So what's the point? There were plenty of good people to highlight in Jesus' past. Why go out of your way to mention the shady characters? Because Mary was potentially a "shady" character and Matthew was sensitive to these kinds of accusations. He was saying right from the beginning, "Jesus comes from questionable stock and therefore every person who is questionable is welcome, including Mary."
Maybe you are of "questionable stock" yourself. Maybe you have felt like you don't deserve to be named as a follower of Jesus. You don't think you are worthy. Hey...join the crowd. No one is, but the beauty of Jesus is that he seems to revel in being associated with us low-lifes! He's not ashamed of us. I'm sure he'd be quick to tell us that "some of my 'best relatives' were low-lifes!"
So this Christmas, gather around the manger along with everyone else. There's a place waiting for you. You'll fit right in!