The Grandmothers of Christmas


            This is a side of the Christmas story that you’ve probably never heard. Professor Bakke[1], my friend and mentor, calls it The Grandmothers of Christmas. These women have a voice that reaches forward from the Old Testament and prophesies the essence of the gospel message, a voice that makes way for their grandchild, Jesus and for me. This is a story that strikes to the heart of the incarnation: God becoming like us in the form of Jesus so that we could become like God. Come with me on this  inbetween the lines story that  resides only within the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of Matthew.


Here is what it says:


            Tamar v. 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar


            Rahab v. 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab


            Ruth v. 5 Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth


            Bathsheba v. 6 David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife


No detail is disposable in the great stories of the Bible. So why are these women mentioned? And what can we learn from them?



Tamar: Genesis 38 The predicament: Widowed with no children


            Tamar’s husband died and, according to the law, she became his brother’s wife. The brother refused to muddy the inheritance of his children by impregnating. So he spilled his seed on the ground, the Bible says. The brother soon died and Tamar became a widow once again. There was another brother, however, who was too young to marry. Judah, Tamar’s father-in-law, urged her to wait until he was grown and then she could conceive by him. As Tamar waited it became obvious that Judah was not going to keep his promise. So she dressed herself as a temple prostitute and seduced Judah and she became pregnant. Manipulative? Hmmm… but  in their culture less criminal than Judah.  When confronted with the his behavior Judah said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son.”


            Tamar resorted to desperate means to bear a child and thus she found her way into the Messianic line. Tamar was not vindictive. She was just determined, driven to bear a child and find to herself in history. Did she know that she would be a great grandmother to the Messiah? Probably not.  As powerless as women were in that day she knew she had a modicum of power and she was clever enough to use it which placed her in the messianic line.



Rahab: Joshua 2-6 The predicament: The prostitute that wanted more


            Rahab was not a Hebrew. She was probably a career prostitute.[2] Joshua sent men to Jericho to check out the city’s fortresses. When the king’s men came searching for the spies she hid them on her roof. “Our lives for yours!” was the deal they struck. Rahab protected the spies and in return they would bring her to safety when Israel invaded the city. Rahab helped the spies escape through the window. A red cord hanging from that same window alerted the Hebrew army to save Rahab and her household. When the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab’s family was indeed saved. This changed her life was forever.  Rahab married Salmon, a Jew, and eventually became the mother of Boaz the husband of our next Grandmother of Christmas.


            Rahab knew one thing for sure: Salvation lay with God’s people. And she wanted to be one of them. She was not afraid to go against her culture, leave her home and start her life over in a new land. Hers is a story of redemption, God’s mercy, forgiveness and new beginnings.



Ruth: Book of Ruth The predicament: Widowed with no prospects in a time of famine


            Ruth was a Moabitess, who married into a Hebrew family. When Ruth’s husband died she refused to return to her own family. She journeyed to Bethlehem with Naomi her mother-in-law, whom she loved. At the urging of Naomi she pursued a marriage to Boaz, a close relative of her deceased husband. She accepted the culture of the Hebrews and the God of the Hebrews as her own. Ruth pledged to her mother in law, “Where you go I will go. Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God.”  So she married Boaz, and gave birth to Obed who was the father of Jesse who was the father of King David.  Ruth saw something in her mother in law that she could not walk away from. She had an eye for spiritual depth. She became hopelessly entangled with God’s people and thus found her way into the messianic line.


 Bathsheba: II Samuel 11 The predicament: Married to one guy, pregnant with another guys baby


            She was Uriah’s wife. Uriah was soldier in David’s army. David saw her bathing on her rooftop (that’s what they did in those days) and wanted her because she was beautiful. David had her and she became pregnant. He panicked. To cover up his misdeeds he sent Uriah to the front lines of the battle where he was killed. David married Bathsheba. Although their first child died, Bathsheba eventually bore Solomon who followed David in the Messianic line. Was Bathsheba supposed to marry David? Probably. The messianic line did come through her womb. Did they jump the gun? Most definitely.





            So what can we say about Tamar the survivor, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the gentile, and Bathsheba the adulteress, these Grandmothers of Christmas?? We can say that Jesus came from a speckled heritage, certainly not pure or highbrow. The rules stated that priests/holy men had to be of pure blood. Wouldn’t one assume that this would be true of the Messiah? But God purposely sent the Messiah through foggy bloodlines. Why? Possibly because God wants me to know that no matter where I find myself my past will never determine my future unless I allow it to. God never holds it against me. Everyone is clean and acceptable, welcome in God’s eyes. From this day forward there is no shame.


            Matthew wanted his readers to understand that all can becomechosen. I can become chosen! The membership in God’s family is open … nothing can disqualify me, not bloodlines, not profession, not misdeeds, nor the will of another person. Just like my own Grandmother[3] these women claimed their voices.  The Grandmothers of Christmas prove to me that nothing can take me out of the hand of God if I will myself to be there.



Merry Christmas!



[1] He was my prof in my doctorate studies at Bakke Graduate University. I want to be just like him when I grow up. This is his story. I am merely repeating it.

[2] Some say she was an innkeeper but I think they like to believe that because they cannot bear the thought of a hooker being in the genealogy of Jesus. Others believe that the Rahab of Matthew 1 is not Rahab the harlot. Why? I do not know. Biblical interpretation principles dictate that the easiest interpretation is probably the accurate one. Again I suspect that it is unthinkable for some for a harlot to be found in the messianic line.

[3] Read Putt Putt You’re Dead  for her story.


Grandmother and the Putt Putt You’re Dead Incident

The Grandmothers of Christmas, Chapter One

Grandmother and the Putt Putt you’re Dead Incident

My sister, my son and I took a road trip after my first stint in college which  I needed badly.  Lisa, who took care of my son whilst I was in school,  Matthew, who was barely five years old  and I would live on the road for a few weeks. We were all excited for the adventure.

We borrowed a friends’ 1965 Sunshine yellow VW camper van. It had a sink, frig and pop up top for sleeping in comfort. Many exciting things happened on this trip. I will leave all but one of those stories for another time. Since it is almost Christmas and grandmothers play an important role in our Christmas theology (I’ll bet you didn’t know that) I want to tell you about the Grandmother and the Putt Putt You’re Dead Incident, as I have come to call it. And as you might guess, my Grandmother is the star of the story.

My Grandmother had her standards and cleanliness was right below her dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Upon our arrival in Phoenix she greeted us warmly as grandmas do… hugs, kisses the like. And then the silent battle was on to sneak our  bug infested, camping clothes from our suitcases to the laundry to be sterilized. According to Grandmother there was nothing that a healthy dose of Lysol could not solve.  She would have us stringently clean, ship shape and ready for our date with Grandfather in no time. The Putt Putt course near the downtown core of Phoenix was our rendezvous point where we would meet Grandfather for his ritual Putt Putt game with Matthew.  We were excited to do something in the city after camping for a week

Although she was able to get Matthew and his Whinny the Pooh in the bath rather quickly, my sister Lisa and I knew that the second we stepped into the shower she would descend like a spider on it’s prey and scoop up our clothes from our suitcases for a good soak in the Lysol. Who wants to smell like eau de Lysol? It felt so violating and not very sexy. So we stood our posts.

 It looked as if we would not get the chance to shower because the woman never left the house. So we went in shifts.  Lisa showered and I stood lookout and then visa versa. By evening Grandmother had conceded loss at least for that day and gone on the defensive. She emerged from her room dressed in fresh clothes… reeking of Lysol, a double dose no doubt. If she couldn’t get those germs off of us she would at least arm herself. Off we went for a night of fun and leisure.

 As we approached the putt-putt golf course it was evident that this place had changed drastically since the last time we were there. Tantalizing bright lights overwhelmed the dark night. The full city block that the entertainment complex now occupied was replete with all kinds of video arcades and snack bars which were packed to capacity with what we would later discover to be rival gangs. The crowd pulsed tensely yet methodically with the beats of the music.

My sister and I were some what intimidated and wondered if Grandmother knew what was going on. As we were not quite the only white faces in the crowd our presence had created quite a tension among the girls. We knew we had walked into an unstable situation that we could not understand much less navigate safely. A group of girls began to enclose us while we stood on the street corner. One young lady, at least six feet tall, leaned in, “You need to get the f*** out of here now unless you want to get hurt.” It felt aggressive and yet she could have just been warning us, we couldn’t tell.

We suspected the worst. Lisa and I edged Matthew’s little  body between us. He could feel the tension too.  A circle of defiant and angry bodies began to close in around our small but short grouping.It became obvious that they were not our friends. When did teenagers start growing so tall? The lights of the arcade were now all but blocked out, we were in a dark place on many levels.

In the midst of that tension my 70 year-old Grandmother asserted her little self armed with her boldness and her lysol. Dressed in her sensible shoes, her peach polyester skirt and her ruffled ecru blouse, and reeking of Lysol. She stepped between us and our nemesis. “ Now that’s not very nice. Someone had better apologize or leave… right now,” she demanded.

As we trembled behind our bold Grandmother we wanted to shout, “Yeah… yeah, you, you big bully!” But we didn’t, we decided to allow her the limelight. And if they punched her, well, we’d be there to catch her before she hit the ground.

But to our utter surprise, tall girl got that deer in the headlights look. She seemed struck speechless by Grandmother, all 5 foot 1 inch of her. Maybe it was Grandmother’s tone, she was known for that. Or maybe it was the lysol, it was known to have repellant properties.  Or perhaps the girl had her own grandmother and she knew that you never cross a Grandmother. She began to back away. Before long the crowd had dissipated and we were on our way to meet Grandfather, no worse for the wear.

Putt Putt golf was exotic under the bright lights in the warm balmy Phoenix night with Grandfather, a tall man with warm friendly eyes. We felt safe with him. And Matthew, again, slaughtered Grandfather at Putt Putt Golf. Grandfather escorted us out through the crowds with a twinkle in his eye, a twinkle that I am just now beginning to understand as I grandparent Alabama and Haley, my granddaughters. Was he as oblivious to the danger that was around us as Grandmother was? We will never know, as the event has not been spoken of since that day except in my journal and Grandfather is long gone.

Did Grandmother ever get what really happened that night? Did she know that she saved us from beatings or worse?  Did she know that these girls most likely were carrying an arsenal of weapons between them? Did she know that these girls eat cream puffs like my sister and I for breakfast? I don’t know…

 But she did understand one thing. She understood that a Grandmother has authority in her voice. She understood that children no matter what their age or socio/economic status hear the voice of a Grandmother. She assumed that she could speak to the higher ground in human beings and get a positive response. She understood that she could hold her ground and people would respect her. And she was fearless, utterly fearless! She knew that lysol had magic powers. And if those things were all she knew, well it was good enough for me.

 Moral of the Story:

Grandmothers are important, very important! Often a grandmother’s voice is more easily heard than a peer’s, a mother’s or a father’s. Grandmothers bring something important to the table. They prophesy to us who we are and who we can be on many levels and they create a pathway for us to become. My sister and I are both named after our grandmother and we are both like her in many ways. By their mere presence Grandmothers assure us that all is well and will be well if we just keep moving forward. We need grandmothers! So it is no wonder to me that the Bible recognizes the importance of  Grandmothers. Four are mentioned in the book of  Matthew. My friend and mentor Ray Bakke calls them the Grandmothers of Christmas. We will talk about them next time.

So stay tuned for Chapter Two: The Grandmothers of Christmas or Well-behaved women rarely make history, especially in the Bible.

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