The (Scandalous) Mothers of Christmas

Leadership is broken because leaders are unbroken

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the unmentionable wife of Uriah the Hittite, Mary–the mothers of Christmas. Who were these women in the genealogy of Jesus and why this rare mention of women in a list of ancestors? Were they righteous women, holy before God, uncommon in their character? They were uncommon in their character, but not all were holy. There was a roadside prostitute, a scarlet woman on the wall, an alien reaper, the unmentionable wife of another man, and the handmaid of the Lord. What an amazing lot! It’s stunning that any woman would be listed in a genealogy, since lineage was usually traced through the father in ancient Israel. But these women? In the genealogy of Christ? Beyond stunning. It’s scandalous.

We start with Tamar, the roadside prostitute, a Canaanite daughter-in-law of Judah, son of Jacob and founder of the Messiah’s tribe. Tamar married two of Judah’s sons, one after the other, both of whom God judged as too wicked to live. Judah told her to wait while his youngest son grew up so she could marry him, then stalled because he had no intention of giving another son to her. So she sat by the roadside disguised as a prostitute and wearing a veil, waylaid Judah, and became pregnant with twins by him, one of whom is mentioned in Christ’s line. How sordid! The first mother of Christmas.

Next comes Rahab, the real thing, a true prostitute who lived on the wall of Jericho and protected Israel’s spies when they searched out the city. They gave her a scarlet cord to hang from her window to identify her as the one believer in the true God in all of Jericho when they destroyed the city. And the scarlet woman on the wall, also a Canaanite woman, became the second mother of Christmas.

Now we meet Ruth, the alien reaper, a foreigner from Moab and the third Gentile on this list. When Israel was going to the Promised Land, the king of Moab hired a prophet to curse Israel, but God prevented him from doing that, so some from Moab seduced many Israelites to engage in idolatrous immorality, for which God judged them. Still Ruth from the tribe of Moab became the wife of Boaz and David’s great grandmother, making her the third mother of Christmas.

Then there’s the unmentionable wife of Uriah, a woman whose name was so loathsome to Matthew he would not even say it, yet she became David’s wife and the mother of Solomon. And that makes her the fourth mother of Christmas.

Finally, Matthew recorded the precious and beautiful name of Mary, the favored one of the Lord, the woman who was willing to do whatever God willed no matter what it cost her. And what did it cost her? Her reputation, since all her life she was thought of as an immoral woman, and also her very heart and soul as she stood at the foot of the cross watching her Son endure unmentionable suffering and utter incomprehensible cries. She truly is a mother of Christmas.

The mothers of Christmas: a roadside prostitute in need of cleansing, a scarlet woman on the wall in need of deliverance, an alien reaper in need of redemption, the unmentionable wife of Uriah in need of forgiveness, and the favored woman of the Lord in need of grace. Just like the rest of us leaders. How better could Matthew show us the grace of Christmas then through the mothers of Christmas?

(from "The (Scandalous) Mothers of Christmas" on

Bill Lawrence is the President of Leader Formation International, Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Adjunct Professor of DMin Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where he served full-time for twenty-four years (1981-2005). During this time he also was the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Leadership for twelve years.