We have an expression in English that every family has its own ‘skeletons in the closet’ – dark secrets that you wouldn’t want anyone else to find out about. Matthew’s Gospel starts with Jesus’ genealogy, in which every skeleton in the cupboard is brought out and paraded in full view.
There is Tamar: who sets out to entrap her father-in-law, disguising herself as a prostitute to take advantage of the recent death of his wife, with the deliberate intention of becoming pregnant, in payment for his mistreatment of her, his refusal to fulfil his responsibility towards her as her guardian after she is widowed twice-over.
There is Rahab: who, dedicated to (named after) a mighty chaos demon by her parents, grew up to become a prostitute, offering shelter and comfort to travellers, and who betrayed her own people by harbouring spies who came with the intent of overthrowing Jericho.
There is Ruth: who was from Moab, a neighbouring people descended from the elder of Lot’s daughters, who both got their father drunk in order to become pregnant by him after his wife and their husbands had died in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and who herself, when widowed, took advantage of her relative-by-marriage in his drunkenness, in order to secure him as a husband.
There is Bathsheba: whose story is such an embarrassment that she isn’t even named, but identified as having been the wife of Uriah, one of David’s closest allies and military heroes; David, who when pregnancy threatened to reveal his adultery first tried to trick his friend in to believing he was the father and then had him set up to be killed in battle; Bathsheba who later had a surviving son by David, and involved herself in intrigue to ensure that her son, rather than any other son by David’s other wives, succeeded his father on the throne.
There is Mary: a girl waiting to enter into an arranged marriage as soon as she becomes a woman (i.e. has her first period), but whose very first egg is impregnated by the Holy Spirit (i.e. Jesus will spend three semesters in an unused or virgin womb, and three days in an unused tomb); a girl found pregnant by someone else, bringing disgrace on her family and the family of her betrothed.
This Jesus is not ashamed to own the skeletons in his family history; but, rather, comes to fully redeem dark secrets God has been redeeming over and over again.
The third Antiphon is ‘O Radix Jesse’ or ‘O Root of Jesse,’ a title which highlights both Jesus’ ancestry – descended from Jesse – and God’s work of redeeming our past – the root or stump from which a chopped-down tree grows back, straighter than before. I have chosen to set it at the closet, wardrobe, or chest-of-drawers.
O Radix Jesse
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
Advent: making room for Jesus – in the closet.