I read the names, and I remember their stories.
Tamar…twice widowed, tricks her father-in-law into sleeping with her so she can conceive, bear a child and cement her place in Judah’s line.
Rahab…a prostitute who hides Israelite spies and helps them capture her city.
Bathsheba, or the one ‘who had been Uriah’s wife’…the woman with whom King David committed adultery.
And then there’s Ruth. Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law, a foreigner who pledges her loyalty to Naomi, who gains the respect and affection of a noble man honestly…and basically lives happily ever after.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t identify more closely with the first three than the last. And as I tentatively draw near to the manger scene, trembling hands bearing paltry gifts, I remember their stories. That these women with checkered pasts are the ancestors of the Messiah. That God saw fit to include them in the lineage of His Son. This truth touches a place deep in my heart.
I hesitate to worship because I fear I’m a disappointment, a failure. Until tonight, I’ve been worried that my house wasn’t clean enough or my molasses cookies would fall flat. But now, with four days until we wake, read Luke 2 and offer our thanks for this indescribable gift, the fear goes far deeper.
The closer you get to the manger, the more honest you find you’ve become.
So I remember their stories. And I remember that along with those stinky shepherds, a lowly manger and heaven knows how many livestock, these women were invited in to this Story. They were each allowed to play a part in redemption’s entrance to the world. They were given the honor of direct kinship with Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace. How can I read these names and think that I am any less lovable, any less redeemable? Yet I do just that. I mean, clearly God didn’t know when He was grafting scandalous women into Jesus’ lineage that someone like me would come along and try to cash in on that deal.
Except He did. And that knowledge did not for one second stay His steady hand of grace.
You know, we can give more without exposing the depths of our souls. We can spend less without devoting a second thought to God’s presence. We can even love all by temporarily shoring up our insecurities with some gratitude and a stiff upper lip. But worshipping fully? It’s an act of intimacy. It requires that we commune with God as He is: Father, Maker, All-Knower, Savior, Master, Lavish Love-Giver. And we must commune with Him as we are: everlastingly loved, cherished, eternally redeemed, forgiven, restored. So often I come to Him ashamed, guilty, accused and frightened. How this must break His heart. How it wearies my soul.
I read the names again, and I realize: it’s good to remember their stories. It’s good to remember my story. But we run amuck when we forget that redemption is just a little bit further down the page, that the Story doesn’t end where we strayed. We can’t worship fully when we’re stuck in those gritty places because we’re not remembering who we are in Him. We can believe that God parted the Red Sea, that a virgin gave birth to the Messiah, that Jesus healed the sick and rose from the grave…but we wrestle so with the Truth that we are loved by the God who accomplished all of those things.
So I’d like to stop wrestling. To finally cease my striving and humbly accept my place as beloved. Something tells me that if we can just find a way to do that, we’ll find ourselves offering up to Him the worship of hearts full to bursting with gratitude and joy, with love and peace.
This Christmas season at FN, we’ve decided to join into the Advent Conspiracy. As a part of celebrating together, we’ve asked several people to write about each week’s topic here on our blog. And we’d like for you to join in too: share your reactions, plans, or experiences in the comments. Or, if you post on your own blog, leave a link in the comments. Post pictures to our Facebook wall. Tweet us @fellowshipnorth. Let’s use our online space as a community – one that will conspire together this Christmas season!