The First Sunday of Advent: Tamar

Behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.

Zechariah 3:8b

I love Advent and how it allows us to anticipate and ready ourselves for the celebration of Jesus’s birth. Usually when I think of Advent, I connect it to church and the lighting of the 5 candles. But when I arrive home after church, I quickly enter Christmas mode, which usually means that I’m anticipating Christmas Eve, but not necessarily Jesus. God is asking me to do things a little differently this year. How can I, as a Christ follower, prepare myself to meet my Saviour and King uniquely and freshly this season?

At the school where I work, the girls in the Bible study I lead were spontaneously talking about Tamar. For most of them, this name was unfamiliar. Tamar has a wild story that is hard to understand. Yet, even in the relatively brief account of her story in Scripture, she is mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy – so I thought to myself, “She must have relevance and importance in our understanding of Jesus.” As I reflected on the 5 women mentioned in His genealogy, I suddenly thought of Advent, and the parallel between this number of women and the number of candles in the Advent wreath. The idea of studying the women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy as a way of anticipating His birth seemed so exciting. So my Advent countdown begins with Tamar.

Judah, one of the 12 sons of Jacob, had three sons. As was his societal duty, Judah found a woman named Tamar and acquired her to marry his firstborn son, Er. His oldest son was wicked in the sight of the Lord and in short order Er died, leaving Tamar a widow. As was custom, Judah expected Onan, his next son in line, to fulfil his role as a brother-in-law and produce an heir for his older brother through the custom known as levirate marraige. Onan, like his older brother, was wicked in the sight of the Lord and also died, again leaving Tamar husbandless and without any offspring.

At this point, Judah sent Tamar back to her father’s house, under the pretences of allowing his youngest son, Shelah, time to grow up until he was ready for marriage. To be sent home after having been married was a disgrace that Tamar probably never recovered from. Shame would have followed her – a woman cast off, unless Judah would follow through with his promise and give her to Shelah. Judah, however, did not keep his promise to Tamar, out of fear for the life of his son, seeing Tamar as cursed and dangerous. Tamar, with no hope, dressed as a prostitute and, with a veil covering her face, stood by the city gate and seduced her father-in-law to sleep with her in the hopes of becoming pregnant and producing an heir for her dead husband’s family. All she asked for in payment was his seal and its cord, and the staff in his hand. She succeeded, and found herself pregnant.

When Judah learned that Tamar was pregnant he said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” With incredible risks, but according to her premeditated plan, Tamar sent the seal and cord and staff back to its owner. Judah immediately recognized them. In that moment, he saw her as more righteous then himself, since he wouldn’t give her to his son, Shelah – the thing that would have saved her from a life of shame. Judah never slept with her again, and Tamar gave birth to twin boys, one of whom was named Perez, who turned out to be an ancestor in the line of our Messiah.

Is that not the craziest story? I have read Genesis 38 (the recorded story of Tamar) many times this past week and wondered why God would choose her to be in Jesus’ genealogy. Tamar’s story is one that many of us might wonder at. Why wasn’t it hidden away? Why not tuck this little chestnut into a different writing or book, maybe one that could have been lost or destroyed over time? But obviously God did not see it that way! Rather, in this story, He offers us a sprig of hope: God’s plan for the Saviour of the world – the Branch– is fulfilled despite our sin! Hope. Despite our sin. Despite how sin has played a part in where we find ourselves today. It miraculously doesn’t disqualify us from bringing glory to Him! God did not use a pure, unsoiled path to bring about the Saviour’s predecessors, but rather a messy story of human failures. A sprig of hope!

Out of this story, we can celebrate the mother and father who inadvertently began the tribe of Judah, which would ultimately lead to the birth of our Messiah! Tamar would not have known what we know today. Her understanding of the magnitude of her own story was incomplete, and so is ours. So we hope…

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:24-25