I want you to know something. Like Ruth, like Tamar, like Rahab, I’m a survivor. I can’t change the hand I’ve been dealt. But I can change the way my children live and how their children live. I hope that I can affect their choices. My son Solomon was said to be very wise. He was. He made some pretty big lofty decisions, like building the Temple in Jerusalem and settling disputes. He also had lots of wives and concubines. We’re talking hundreds here. He was a child of his culture. But he also had a long way to go. I guess we all do.
Here’s what I say to you. Be a noble person. Don’t just do what others tell you. Remember the worth that you have. Claim your voice. Claim your story. For you are woven into the tissue of humanity, like all of my offspring and those who have gone before me. I am Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, Shamnua, Shobab and Nathan. I am also a child of God, just like you. I am a survivor and I am a woman of purpose and worth. Remember me as you remember Mary and Jesus. Remember me as you remember yourself, a child of God.
Because of last week’s snow emergency and the subsequent cancellation of the service, you missed my sermon on Ruth (awww).
But we can’t rightly go from Rahab to Bethsheba without first considering Ruth. In fact, we’ll understand Bathsheba better if we look at Ruth. And we’ll understand Mary if we consider all four of the women we have looked at in Advent, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. I’m glad Ginny gave you a taste of her story. Ruth’s book was likely written by a woman.
You can read my sermon from last week online, so let me just tell you this. The story of Ruth is about a woman helping another woman restore herself after depression. God knows we need that in our lives. If Christmas can help us navigate the morass of despair then we are better prepared to live renewed lives, and God becomes incarnate in our very lives.
Ruth redeems Naomi by giving her an offspring to raise. It occurs to me that Mary also raises an unexpected child. In fact all four of these women raise unexpected children. And each of them points us in a new if not better direction. The book of Ruth is not about the men, it’s about the women. It’s about birth and wonder abounding with all of the wonder of a manger scene.
Matthew must have been pointing to something when he wrote his gospel. Matthew and Luke are the only ones who have any mention of the nativity of Jesus. They both include genealogies. Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to Adam. Matthew’s only goes back to Abraham. But isn’t it odd that both genealogies trace the male lineage to a supposedly adoptive father in Joseph? What’s up with that? I submit that the key to unlocking this mystery is in the four women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy. These four women point to something about Jesus’ life, his origin and his presence in our lives.
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Not only was Jesus born to a peasant family who had to flee from state-sponsored terrorism, not only was he born to a teenage mother in a non-traditional marriage, not only was he homeless, but his conception might not have been as immaculate as tradition has lead us to believe.
Jane Schaberg points out that all four find themselves outside of patriarchal family structures. Tamar and Ruth are childless widows. Rahab is a prostitute and Bathsheba is an adulteress and then a widow pregnant with her lover’s child. All four are wronged by the male world. All four risk damage to their own social order and condemnation because of their actions—actions which result in children. All four are also redeemed by men who either admit their guilt or forgive their sins. They are brought under patriarchal protection. They each point to the Jesus who obviously has an out of the ordinary origin. And most shockingly, each story holds a lack of intervention by God. It is as if since more was needed from these women to survive, so much more will Jesus need, so much more will we need in order to survive.
Bathsheba, the fourth woman in the genealogy is the only woman not named. She’s simply listed as the wife of Uriah and the mother of Solomon. It’s like Matthew was pointing to the fact that there was illegitimacy in the history of the most important family in the Bible.
Bathsheba was one of many wives of David. David sought her out, had his way with her, arranged for her husband to be killed and then added her to his harem. What made her special? Well, there’s her beauty and her fertility. But I would say that she is there because she’s her child’s best advocate.
We can list the names of all the wives and offspring of David, but no woman gets as much press in the Bible as Bathsheba. Bathsheba was not some compliant woman who would do what anyone told her. She was a warrior. She even saw the warring factions in her own family and she used her position and influence to be her child’s best advocate. She was the granddaughter to Ahitophel, a shrewd military and political advisor to king David. She was the daughter of Eliam. Eliam was a member of an elite warrior group called the 30 which is kind of like the Samauri. The 30 were David’s personal bodyguards. She must have learned about the twisted inner-workings of the monarchy, coming from such a family.
In I Kings 1 and 2, she arranges for her son Solomon to be the next King of Israel. She does this with cunning and over the objections of the next in line. You see, Solomon is not the oldest son. He’s the fifth oldest son. The older ones have been killed or have killed each other—great family right? But now that David is old and feeble the oldest surviving son Adonijah decided it was time to have the throne. He prepared a feast and announced himself to be ready to be king.
But it turns out that not everyone liked Adonijah. And there was a split in the royal court. Powerful prophets and advisors sought to stop the crowning of Adonijah, so they went to Bathsheba and hatched a plan to install her son Solomon as the next king. They knew that Bathsheba had pull with David. In fact, David was punished by God for his treatment of Bathsheba. Since David raped her and had her husband killed, he was not worthy to oversee the building of the Temple. Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan convinced David that he had promised the throne to Solomon. David didn’t know any better and indeed passed his crown on to Solomon, Bathsheba’s son. Or maybe he did know better and made one last reparation for his sinful acts.
But Adonijah wasn’t done yet. He asked Bathsheba to ask Solomon to have Abishag, a Shunammite woman who had once kept David warm in his old age as his wife. One wonders why Adonijah didn’t ask his brother himself. Abishag could have been seen as a consolation prize for the vanquished brother. But in reality their marriage would have shifted the power. Control over the harem back in those days meant control of the kingdom. Needless to say, Solomon, wisely seeing the scheme, did not grant Adonijah’s request. In return, Solomon gave Bathsheba a throne as the king’s mother right alongside Solomon’s. For good measure, Solomon had his brother and nemesis killed.
While David was the first king, Solomon was the first king crowned by succession. Did Matthew put Bathsheba here to reinforce the claim of Jesus to be the king of the Jews. Bathsheba, the Queen mother, was an advocate for her son Solomon and a woman of note.
And yet, she hardly emerges as an empowered woman. She’s no Tamar with her civil disobedience. She’s no Rahab with her treason. She’s no Ruth with her liberating initiative of Naomi. She’s depicted as the passive player in men’s games. But there’s a silence to her story that begs to be imagined. How does one who is wronged survive? How do you stand up to rules that are out of your control? What messages do we pass on to our children?
Jane Shaberg puts it this way:
“Mention of these four women is designed to lead Matthew’s reader to expect another, final story of a woman who becomes a social misfit in some way; is wronged or thwarted; who is party to a sexual act that places her in great danger; and whose story has an outcome that repairs the social fabric and ensures the birth of a child who is legitimate or legitimated. That child, Matthew tells us (1:1), is “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (The Illegitimacy of Jesus, p.33)
Because all four women succeed on their own without God’s intervention, does this mean that Jesus’ birth and conception possibly did not have a uniquely miraculous nature? That’s another argument for another sermon. One thing we do know: the actions of Jesus and his parents were miraculous. And as we seek to be good parents, we can also do miraculous things. We can be our children’s best advocates. And that’s miraculous work indeed.
I want to give you two examples of people who are their children’s best advocates.
One of the retired Missionaries for whom we give offerings this month is Dr. Gustavo Parajon. A childhood survivor of polio, he went to medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. There he learned about how the new polio vaccine was having miraculous results and was widely distributed throughout the first world. But third world countries like his homeland of Nicaragua did not have the infrastructure or the political will to make the vaccine available to the rural poor. So with the help of the American Baptist Churches and the Nicaraguan Baptist Convention, Dr. Parajon set up a program to vaccinate the entire country. And they were able to eradicate polio in Nicaragua. He was the advocate for the children of his country.
Yesterday, the Senate voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I remember being with Jake Reitan and David Coleman and some others in 2006 when Jake tried to enlist in the National Guard as an openly gay man. His parents Phil and Randi have been tireless advocates for the LGBT community because of Jake’s activism and his witness. As responsible parents, Phil and Randi said that the only moral and Christian thing they could be was their child’s best advocate. Their story is told in the film “For the Bible Tells Me So,” which I learned this morning was translated into Chinese by Allen Tsai. With David Coleman’s help (adding subtitles), Allen will take this film to Taiwan this week and begin the educational process with his family and friends. What an advocate.
At Christmas, we remember children for whom the world is a new stage. Children that are not besmirched or influenced by our own tepid defeatism. With each new birth we see opportunity. We see a new world of possibilities. But these new children need advocates in order to have the freedom that they require to grow and to thrive.
We are called, like Bathsheba, to be our child’s best advocate. We are called to be the advocate of all children. It doesn’t matter what race they are, what gender, how many resources their family has. Each one has intrinsic worth.
And we are to remember all children and be advocates for all of them.
This means making the world a place that is free of bullying.
It means making sure that all have economic opportunities.
It means making sure that no one is judged by their wealth or race or gender or affectional proclivities.
It means creating a community that sets people free and ensures life and blessing for all.
It means remembering that the true meaning of Christmas is the creation of a transformative community—where establishing justice is exponentially more important than saying Merry Christmas or the presents under the tree.
We are people who create the beloved community. May we do so in memory not only of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, but also Mary and Jesus himself.
And may the good news of the season be born in all of us.