Second Friday of Advent

Christmas is for Idiots…and for the Women They Harm

I didn’t understand sexual harassment until I experienced it. I started my career in a public school system in the 1990’s, and I sat through multiple trainings about how to spot sexual harassment and what to do if it happened. At the time, I shook my head and thought a bunch of rules weren’t going to stop truly harmful behavior. And they didn’t. But I came to see that they were needed.

I was an earnest, even zealous, young teacher. I cared about making a difference and doing the right thing no matter what. I expected the people around me to care about the same things. I was naive. Into that naiveté stepped an idiot. A young, aspiring administrator, he stopped me in the office one day to “ask my opinion” about a particular student behavior. I remember how seriously I took his question, and how carefully I began to listen so I could help. It was a setup. His next line revealed the whole thing to be a crude, sexually-oriented joke. I remember freezing, feeling foolish that I had let him trick me, and feeling disgusted. I did nothing and I said nothing in the moment. He suffered no consequences. He took advantage of what he knew of my character and personality and spoke words that, looking back, were a violation. How I wish I would have slugged him, or marched straight to the principal’s office, or told him off right there in the teacher mailroom. But I didn’t. And I can feel the sting of it nearly 20 years later.

That sting gives me the smallest of windows into the wounds of women who have suffered sexually at the hands of men. As both a friend and a therapist, I have listened to women tell their stories of abuse, rape, and incest. I have heard the shame and powerlessness with which they struggle for years. I have watched them wrestle through what it means to both hold the perpetrators accountable, and forgive for the sake of their own souls. If ever there were an area in which the darkness of our world was clear, the terrible realm of sexual violence is it.

That realm includes women in the genealogy of Jesus. I summarize them here, but I urge you to read their stories in Scripture. What they suffered should be remembered.

Tamar (Genesis 38) was married to an evil man. He died, and, by the custom and law of that time, she was then married to his brother, a self-serving man. He died, too. The next brother was not old enough to marry, so her father-in-law, Judah, sent her back to her parents with no means of supporting herself beyond their care. Years went by, and nothing changed. Finally, Tamar posed as a prostitute and slept with Judah, though he didn’t know who she was. When she became pregnant, he declared she should be burned for being unfaithful.  She revealed to him that he was the father, and, finally, he understood: “She is more righteous than I…” (38:26). The greater treachery, the greater betrayal, was on the part of the man who had power and responsibility enough to provide for her. Her children, born from this complicated and fraught union, carried on the line that led to Jesus.

Further along that line, Bathsheba also suffered at the hands of a powerful man. She was married, and her husband was away at war. King David, who should have been away at war (2 Samuel 11-12) saw her bathing and commanded that she be brought to him so he could have sex with her. In that culture, in that time, Bathsheba’s choice was to comply or die – the king’s word was law. That is not really a choice. Can you imagine what that was like for her? Can you imagine what is what like as she walked back to her house afterwards? Or when she discovered she was pregnant? The consequences she suffered because of David’s wicked choice were dire: she lost her husband and mourned for him (2 Samuel 11:26); she became David’s wife whether she wanted to or not (11:27); she lost the baby born of that disastrous encounter (12:15-24). The writer of 2 Samuel is clear about the responsibility for all of this: “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD” (11:27b). Bathsheba’s next child was Solomon, a great king and also part of the lineage of Jesus Christ. She was also presumably present for the ongoing wreckage that David’s sin caused in his family as the years went by. Incestuous rape, fratricidal revenge, civil war (2 Samuel 13-19). I struggle to imagine a life more acquainted with darkness than Bathsheba’s.

Tamar and Bathsheba are part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. So are Judah and David. The family tree of Jesus Christ includes some people one might describe as, “good,” and those one might call, “bad.” It includes perpetrators and victims. In many ways, it is a jumbled mess, full of darkness. I believe that is because the genealogy is a mirror of every individual human heart. King David is described in Scripture as, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), as well as one who did what was, “evil in the sight of the LORD.” How can that be? The idiot who told me that dirty joke in the office was created in the image of God. That wasn’t exactly what I was thinking about him in that moment.

I think it is because the darkness of our world is also the darkness of our hearts, whether in this realm or any other. And there is the longing of Advent and the wonder of Christmas again. Isaiah prophesied, about Jesus’ birth,

“The people who walk in darkness

will see a great light.

For those who live in a land of deep darkness,

a light will shine” (9:2, NLT).

John, writing of the first Advent of Jesus, said, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (1:5, NLT).

There is hope, and warning, there for everyone.

If you’ve been an idiot, or done evil, in the realm of sexual violence, you have contributed to the deep darkness. If you want to turn back, the light shines at Christmas for you.

If you are subjecting others to that realm of sexual violence, you will not be able to extinguish the light. It is stronger than you, and it will shine into the tiniest crevices of your soul, exposing you for who you are.

If you have been harmed in this realm of sexual violence, the light shines at Christmas for you. What happened to you was not your fault. The darkness it caused was not your fault. Bring the harm, and the wreckage, and the fear, to Jesus this Advent. He will be the gentlest of lights for you. And the darkness can never extinguish Him.


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