Advent 1: The Puzzle Of Sin
I hate puzzles. The very idea of sitting at a desk for hours and hours staring at a picture on a box puts me to sleep. I would go as far to say that the worst possible Christmas present that anyone could give is a sheet of cardboard cut up into hundreds of pieces just so you can put it together yourself. It doesn’t matter if it is a picture of a famous U.S. city, perhaps of the sun falling behind the John Hancock building in Chicago, painting the sky beautifully with stripes of red, orange, pink, even some splashes of purple. They take too much time.
When I was growing up, my grandmother had boxes of puzzles piled three to four feet high in the corner of the little spare bedroom. Although she claimed to love puzzles and the “hours of meditation” it could bring her, many of them remained unfinished, showing that even for the most devoted dissectologists there just isn’t enough time to put all of the pieces together. Not to mention, what if you misplace a piece? Or the dog eats one? Then all of that time has been wasted. It might be better to just frame the picture on the box and gift it to your loved one, saving them the hassle of putting the pieces together.
I have never been good with puzzles. We all have our likes and dislikes, and kudos to you if you love puzzles. But for me, eventually all the pieces look and feel the same, so I give up and move on to something else.
Maybe that’s why the genealogies in Scripture have never appealed to me. They don’t stimulate the senses, they aren’t exciting, there’s no thrill of what is going happen next. There’s no mystery, no action, no love stories. If we are honest with ourselves, they are just plain boring.
Until the end of the genealogy when a picture is formed. A picture that you might hang in your home office or in the living room, drawing the attention of all who come into your house for dinner or a family get-together. They look in awe at this picture and they appreciate the finished product, but rarely take into account all the effort and time pouring over the table, sorting pieces, placing each one perfectly into the spot designed specifically for it. So it is the same with genealogies.
During Advent, leading up to Christmas, we tend to jump to the end of the story. We gaze in admiration at the already formed picture, celebrating the beautiful baby in the manger, surrounded by his mother, father, a few shepherds, a couple of angels, and bunch of livestock. We sing hymns of great joy and anticipation, get together for a variety of traditions, and bake our little hearts out so that we can share love with our family, friends, and the occasional stranger. We gather weekly around the altar upon which this baby boy will eventually give his life for us.
But there is so much more to this story than we realize. There is so much more to the incarnation of Jesus that has been woven together, piece by piece, over generations of time. More than forty-two, according to the genealogy in the first chapter of Matthew.
Each name listed in this exhaustive genealogy is a puzzle piece. Each story is an infamous “edge piece.” Each sin is a piece that fills in the frame. From Abraham, who allows Pharaoh to be with his wife out of selfish motives, to Judah and Tamar, who conceive in incest and deceit. From Ruth the Moabite, a descendant of Lot who slept with his daughters, to David, who conceives Solomon in compromised conditions after adultery and murder. From Ahaz, who fails to “test God” and gives his people over to the Assyrians, all the way to Joseph, who is betrothed to Mary, a scandal for the ages as it appears that the young virgin has disgraced herself and her family. All of these racy, evil, offensive, R-rated texts and sins are listed and told for a very specific purpose, as they slowly piece together a beautiful Christmas picture, one at a time.
I love what Martin Luther says about texts like these. In his Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 38-44, he says that “the Holy Spirit wanted [Jesus] to sink into sin as deeply as possible (p. 13).” Think about what Luther is boldly saying about the texts that we don’t typically want to associate with, especially during Advent. These stories are the puzzle pieces that are often thrown away or misplaced. Without these pieces, the picture means nothing. It is not finished.
When we take these puzzle pieces, lay them out, and fit them together, what we see is that Jesus coming into this world and assuming the human flesh is much more than just dipping his toe into the sludge of sin, but rather diving headfirst and drowning himself in sin. When he steps foot into this world, he is not just damp. He’s not a little soggy. He is soaking wet to his very bones in sin.
This is Christmas. It is Jesus becoming all sin from generation to generation. From Adam, to you. He doesn’t just take your sin from you; he becomes your sin (2 Cor. 5:21). Your addiction. Your guilt. Your shame. Your faults. Your failure. He carries it for 33 years, takes it to Golgotha, and is nailed to the cross. It is crucified. Every single ounce of sin is crucified.
From that place, as the final scandalous puzzle piece is placed ever so gently into the picture, forgiveness flows in blood and water washing your heart and making you a new creation, clothed in His righteousness. When all of these puzzle pieces of sin are put perfectly together, we get a beautiful picture. One of passion, grace, mercy, and love.
A picture worth displaying: Christ here for you.