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Skeletons in the Closet

A Readers' Theater about Christ's Family Tree

Note: The readers’ parts should be adapted to fit the “voice” and experience of the readers as well as the context in which this script is used.

[Violin plays through “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154 one time.]

Reader 1: When I was a child, I had no patience for family reunions or for the drawn-out discussions about family genealogy that occurred over Sunday morning coffee at my grandfather’s house.

While I stuffed my cheeks full of cookies, washing them down with heavily sweetened tea, my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles sorted through their connections. They’d trace the line of family that lived in Minnesota. Or recall the names of family who had moved out West. Or discuss the generation that first moved here from “the old country.” Such talk was the surest way to drive me from the table.

Only now, as an adult, do I appreciate what they were doing. Each name they recalled summoned a dozen stories, and each story summoned a dozen other stories.

To chant the family tree is to revisit the past, to examine who we are and where we’ve come from. Genealogies are the skeletons upon which the flesh of our history takes life. Without these skeletons, we can’t connect our present lives with the past. Instead of seeing ourselves as part of a living, organic, historical community, we fall into shards of isolation, a collection of single blips that flash briefly on the cosmic radar screen and then are gone forever.

“What’s past is prologue,” Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest. The history of our parents, our families, our communities, and our nations provides the background for the stories we make of our lives. So it is for each of us, and so it was for Jesus Christ. In the opening verses of Matthew, we see the genealogy, the skeleton, of Christ’s family history.

[Reader walks offstage.]

[String quartet plays through “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” projection of Matthew 1 comes up, name by name, on screen.]

[Readers 2, 3, and 4 walk onstage.]

Reader 2: Christ’s genealogy—the skeleton of the family history. This skeleton is certainly interesting. Not only is it a skeletal form of history, but it is a history with a few skeletons in the closet.

Remember Jacob, the schemer and conniver who cheated everyone, including his own family? He blackmailed his brother, deceived his father, and swindled his Uncle Laban. It’s impossible to read about Jacob without thinking, “I’m glad he’s not in my family.”

Reader 3: And what about Judah and Tamar—now there’s a sordid story. Tamar was married to Judah’s son, who died. As was customary, Judah’s other son was to sleep with Tamar to produce offspring for her. However, the other son would not fulfill his duty, and God struck him dead.

Judah then brushed Tamar aside, commanding her to return to her father. This she did, but some years later, when she heard that Judah was visiting her town, she dressed as a prostitute, seduced him, and took his seal and cord and staff.

Three months later, Judah learned that Tamar was expecting a child. Enraged, he demanded that she be put to death. But Tamar produced Judah’s seal and cord and staff that she had taken from him, saying that he was the father of her baby. Judah recognized his belongings, and in shame he withdrew his demand for the death penalty.

Reader 4: Tamar is far from the only questionable woman in Jesus’ lineage. Rahab, the career prostitute of Jericho who hid the Jewish spies, is also part of the family tree.

Reader 2: And remember King David and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba? The two committed adultery together, and when David couldn’t cover his tracks any other way, he murdered Uriah by sending him to the front lines of battle.

Reader 3: Evil kings pop up in the genealogy too, including Manasseh, possibly the most evil king in Israel’s history. The man practiced witchcraft and profaned the temple of the Lord. He sacrificed his own son to idols.

Reader 4: Along with sinners, we see a history of outsiders and unknowns. Rahab and Ruth, two Gentile women, find their way into the family tree. Azor, a character never mentioned in the Old Testament, is also recorded here—a tiny drop in the rain of God’s grace. Such “sinners” and outsiders are among those from whom Christ springs.

Reader 2: And yet, he doesn’t—at least not in the biological

sense. Matthew makes this clear when he reaches the end of his genealogy. After a long list of “so and so” being the father of “so and so” Matthew suddenly breaks the pattern.

[Project Matthew 1:16 on screen.]

Reader 3: “. . . and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Matthew makes it very clear that Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father. Jesus is a descendent of David, but he is a descendent by adoption.

Reader 4: But even the adoption is turned around. The

family, stretching from Abraham to Joseph—a family full of successes and failures, sinners and unknowns—this family did not choose to adopt Christ. Rather, Christ adopted this family, accepting its tainted history as his own. This family tree, full of branches that might have been better pruned than allowed to live, this tree of Christ’s adopted past reveals, even in his birth, a Christ who comes to seek and to save the lost.

[Readers 2, 3, and 4 walk offstage; Reader 1 enters.]

Reader 1: As a child, I was wrong about family trees. They are anything but boring. They are the stuff from which our identities emerge. None of us starts life as a blank slate. My predecessors formed a community of which I am now a part.

My family tree, like Christ’s tree, is full of sinners and failures and unknowns. And yet this tree we share is a faith community, a gathering of people stamped with the image of God.

Yes, the image is tarnished, but it is being made new. This is possible because the family tree that I am a part of has been adopted by Christ, grafted into his own, and made holy.

We are a part of the people of God. To talk about the family tree is to record the story of God’s covenantal grace to his people, the very grace we celebrate at Christmas.

[Solo: “I Wonder as I Wander” WR 225]