Christmas held different memories for me as a little girl than it did for most others. My father came to Christ as an adult and was influenced by Christ’s followers who believed that many practices such as putting up trees, lights, and candles were pagan. So while I knew the birth of Christ was significant, I tended to look beyond Christ’s birth to His death, resurrection, and ascension.

When I married and moved to Dallas with my husband, however, we carefully chose a Christmas tree, decorated it with white lights, and lit candles throughout the house. Over the years, as we had our own children, we began the practice of joining as a family on Christmas morning to read the marvelous story of the birth of our Savior. This became a prelude to giving gifts, and having neighbors to our home at Christmastime became a primary means of evangelism. Now years later, sharing the account of God becoming a man allows me the grand enjoyment of a story wider and richer than I ever imagined as a child. One part of Jesus’ birth that particularly captures my imagination is the record of how five women provided the human context for the divine Savior’s arrival.

Even a cursory look at Matthew’s genealogy reminds us of what is excluded from the popular cultural and religious celebrations we enjoy at Christmas. We focus narrowly on the baby and His parents, yet Scripture connects us to a story that’s longer, deeper, richer, and more profound than we commonly celebrate. Mary may be the final, God-blessed link in the chain of God’s purpose, but she is only one of five women, some with dubious backgrounds, whose lives connect with the Messiah. Collectively they show us that the coming Savior is the divinely promised Redeemer, available for all people in all places. And they remind us again of the wonderful grace of our God. 

Why not journey this year to the past in the ancient text and meet these five women of Christmas? You may discover that characteristics from their lives mirror your own. Better yet, you may share their amazing stories with those whom you seek to introduce to the Savior.
Tamar, wife first to Judah’s wicked son, Er, and then Onan after Er’s death, was reduced by the actions of irresponsible men to seduce and trick her father-in-law into sleeping with her in order to raise a descendant for Er. The result was the birthing of twins, Perez and Zerah. What a strange and ugly event to find in one’s family ancestry! Yet Perez became Tamar’s contribution to the godly line (Gen. 38).

Rahab, the Jericho prostitute, believed the report of Israel’s military strength and of God’s presence with them. Her faith in Yahweh saved not only Israel’s spies but also her and her family. She married Salmon and she, a transformed prostitute, is bonded forever to the Messiah by the birth of her son, Boaz. In turn his marriage to Ruth, the once-pagan Moabite girl, produced Obed, grandfather to King David (Josh. 2; Ruth 4).

Bathsheba, a participant in the most sordid event in David’s life, married David, who was the man after God’s own heart. Repenting of adultery, David experienced God’s grace that bestowed on him the Davidic Covenant. Bathsheba’s sons personally knew God’s grace, as both Solomon and Nathan became Jesus’ ancestors through Mary and Joseph. Humanly the Savior qualifies to reign as the royal Son of David on David’s throne (2 Sam. 7, 11).

The words Mary spoke as a teenager, “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38), capture the grand surrender of a young woman yielding her very body to the great I AM. Her choice to house the Christ-Child prepared the world for the climax of the ages according to the eternal plan “in the fullness of times ... born of a woman ... born under the law to redeem those cursed by the law” (Gal. 4:4).

Much as a choir cries forth in glorious strains of joy, these five women of Christmas lift up the worth of our Savior from faith stories that are at once shocking yet simple. Who could imagine that such people would be so intimately associated with the Savior’s ancestry, birth, and life? They show us God’s powerful grace. They give us hope and constrain us to bow low in humble adoration before the Savior.

These five women in the lineage of Christ whisper to us the real story of Christmas. They allow us an opportunity to question the value of decorating trees, hanging lights, and spending money as our primary celebration of Christmas. They push us to simplify our celebrations and bring our families near to explore together these stories that carry eternal truths. When we do, we find we have a Savior who: (1) willingly associates with the most sinful and disqualified of us all; (2) transforms personal failure into eternal blessing; (3) forgives the darkest of sin; (4) gives great hope during dark days; (5) values surrender to His will above all things; and (6) gladly receives ?praise from those who recognize His worth.

Dr. Elizabeth Inrig (MA[BS], 1993) is coordinator of women’s ministry at Trinity Church in Redlands, California. She is also national director of women’s ministry for the Evangelical Free Church of America.