I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisements from companies like Ancestry and 23andMe. For a small sum, you can send them your DNA, and they will send back a report on your family history. You may even find out you’re related to a king or someone famous.
We live in an identity-obsessed age. If I had to guess, I’d suspect that every age in history has been an identity-obsessed age. Answering the question, “Who am I?” seems like a universal human desire. This question, however, has usually been pursued a little differently in America.
America has always championed the self-made individual. We’ve never had a monarchy, and we’ve tended to celebrate narratives about underdogs overcoming the odds through hard work and ingenuity. Yet that story seems to be changing. We are now hearing a different story—one that ties present identity to race and ancestry. If your DNA report comes back a certain way, you inherit a story of oppressor or oppressed, and you’re expected to live that story.
My wife and I are adoptive parents. We’ve seen this mentality up close. We’ve gotten questions about our “real” children. There’s an underlying assumption that adopted children are in a different category. They’re not really in the family. To belong requires a DNA match.
I’ve been trying to approach the Christmas story with fresh eyes this year. We tend to romanticize it. We like to arrange our manger scenes with each member standing in the right spot. Wise men are there, even though they didn’t make it to the birth—Jesus was probably a toddler by then—and there’s always three of them even though they are never numbered in the Bible.
We like to sing our songs about silent nights, and everything, of course, is calm and bright. Have you ever been present during labor? There’s nothing silent about it. For some reason, we don’t like to talk about the blood, pain, and stretch marks when it comes to baby Jesus.
And then there’s the circumstances. Mary was an unmarried, pregnant teenager. Can you imagine the whispers? We need the raw humanity of Christmas because we need to be reminded that God meets us where we are. The Christmas story isn’t a Hallmark story. The Christmas story is more like our stories—messy and disheveled.
What about Joseph? We tend to fixate on Mary, but Matthew reminds us that Joseph had a role to play as well. In Matthew 1 we learn that Joseph thought about ending his betrothal to Mary. Who wouldn’t? He knows how pregnancies happen, and he knows it couldn’t have been his. He’s a “just” man, though, which keeps him from humiliating Mary to save his own reputation. He resolves to put her away quietly.
But then God intervenes. He visits Joseph through an angel in a dream and tells him that the baby in Mary’s womb was put there by the Holy Spirit. Contrary to what it seems, Mary hasn’t been unfaithful, and because Joseph is a just man, he believes what the angel tells him. This is not an ordinary baby. This baby will save his people from their sins!
That’s an amazing story but let me add to the wonder. Matthew’s gospel doesn’t begin with the story; it begins with a genealogy. Going back all the way to Abraham, Matthew reveals Jesus’s family tree. There are a few scandals in there—Rahab the prostitute and David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba. Jesus’s family certainly wasn’t squeaky clean.
But the biggest surprise of all is that Jesus’s place in the genealogy isn’t secured by Mary, his mother and the one from whom his human genetics would have been inherited. Jesus is the son of Abraham, son of David through Joseph—his adoptive father. That’s right, Jesus was adopted. The Christmas story is an adoption story!
If you don’t believe Joseph is Jesus’s real dad, you don’t believe Abraham and David are his real ancestors either. If Jesus isn’t related to Abraham and David, then the promises made by God to them are still unfulfilled. God’s promises were to their descendent, and Jesus is their descendent through adoption.
Identity is essential but understand that God’s way of forming identity has never depended on blood and DNA. We enter the genealogy the same way Jesus did, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what color your skin is or what your ancestors did before you were born. Jesus came that we “might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:5). If you’re in Christ, don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re not a “real” child of God.