I’ll never forget my first Christmas being married. Being a pastor, you know you will not make much money so you learn to live in the meager ends. To do so, I shopped all year round for great deals on Christmas presents. By the time December rolled around, I had most of the gifts bought. When I married my husband, I gladly added my in-laws to the list. And, as to be expected, by the time the December page appeared on my wall calendar all the in-laws had gifts.

It was the first of December when I received the flurry of emails. My husband’s siblings had submitted Christmas lists for themselves and distributed to the family. These lists were not just a collection of thoughtful items. They included websites with order numbers and wish lists! I was taken back. My family did not do that. We would never dare mention anything we ever wanted. No, we gratefully received our gifts….secretly returned them or lived in solemn disappointment, hoping for better next year. The only words uttered were, “Thank you”.  I call it Southern Fried Gratitude!  And for almost 30 year, it worked for me.  I had never considered another way.

This “Christmas list” was a family tradition that I had married into and it caught me by surprise. In addition to this marital pop quiz, I was expected to submit my list as well. What a learning experience! I had never been invited to think about what I really wanted, gift-wise. It took me so long to prepare my list, my in-laws threatened to get me gift cards. Gone were the Christmas morning rehearsals of gratitude that would have rivaled a new born kitten’s wide eyes. By mail, my in-laws gave me physical gifts that I actually wanted- down to the correct color and size!

I don’t know who first coined the term, but it’s true: You don’t marry the man/woman, you marry the family.

That saying makes me think of our mother-to-be in our scripture passage this morning.  I wonder if Rebekah knew. She really wasn’t courted by Isaac himself yet how they found each other was truly amazing. Abraham sends out his servant to find a non-Canaanite woman for his son to marry. The servant, overwhelmed by the task, asks God to intervene with some very specific patterns. The servant shows up to the destination of Abraham’s orders and the list of specifics is checked off one by one in record breaking time. The Bible tells us that Rebecca is taken to Isaac and he not only marries her but he loves her.

I wonder how long it took Rebekah to put all the pieces together. She was a lucky girl because she married the right son. Isaac was the only son Abraham had anything to do with. Rebekah’s father-in-law, Abraham, fathered at least 8 sons by three women. Of course, we know of Isaac and his mother Sarah and Ishmael and his mother Hagar. But scripture reveals that after Sarah’s death, Abraham marries Keturah and produces 6 sons. Of these sons, the book of Genesis only speaks of two, and at that the two boys were barely mentioned.

Genesis 25:5 reveals a family secret of sorts. Abraham gave a few trinkets to the “sons of concubines”. The only significant, unifying factor in the birth of all sons besides Isaac is that Abraham sent them all away. He excluded Isaac from any extended family. Then, in a second strike at disfranchisement, Abraham leaves 100% of his great wealth to only Isaac. If Sarah and Hagar bickered when their boys were small, could you imagine this upset when the will was read?

Rebekah had married into quite the family! And the dirtiest family secret casts such a shadow on the whole family, our Jewish brothers and sisters gave the happening a name – Akedah, meaning the binding of Isaac. Ancient Rabbis believe  this event to be so traumatic it forever changes family life for the chosen trio and it’s ripple effects rattles through sequential generations. Akedah is the sacrifice of Isaac God calls Abraham to make. At the last minute, God’s angel stops the blade from piercing Isaac’s chest and a lamb is provided as a replacement for the boy. Following the incident, the scriptures tell us in Genesis 22:19 that Abraham then resided in Beersheba. Chapter 23 opens with Sarah’s death in Hebron. The two locations are miles apart. The most faithful man of the Bible separated from his wife because of something God had called him to do. Even modern Rabbis believe the stress of Isaac’s near death experience at the hands of his own father was experienced by Sarah as betrayal. And not only betrayal by her husband, but also by God.  This great heartbreak causes her death for there are zero verses between Genesis 22:19 and Genesis 23:1.

That is the family Rebekah joins. Well there was an upside – God’s promise to bring a nation through Abraham and now Isaac. Rebekah became an integral part. My, my, the pressure on her shoulders when she could not conceive.

READ SCRIPTURE

25:19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 25:20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 25:22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 25:23 And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 25:24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25:25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 25:26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 25:27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 25:28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. 25:29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 25:30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 25:31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 25:32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 25:33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 25:34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

I am so curious as to how Isaac prepared his favored son for the role of head of God’s family? According to Jewish tradition, storytelling had to be part of it. Esau, like his mother before him, put together the pieces about Grandpa Abraham and his other disowned sons. Esau heard Isaac’s version of being binded and almost sacrificed. Yes, there was a brilliant angel, but his father, Abraham, had betrayed him and spilt up the marriage and Isaac’s happy family home. My, my, how the pressure must have mounted upon Esau! Such a collection of step-uncles that probably despised him and now he was expected to serve this mysterious God who requires so much. No wonder he despised his birthright!

I do understand where he is coming from. Maybe that stress is why he stayed out hunting so much! There are days when I wish I could stay away from camp and enjoy the thrill of the hunt – out in the wild, where I am free. There are days when I wish I could turn a blind eye to my neighbor and a deaf ear to the poor. But I am called to emulate the best of those who have gone before me. I am fueled by the belief that although we live in a broken world and God must make use of heartache, God is good and longs for the best for humankind. I am and you are called to live among the tents, among the people who are broken and blessed and constantly struggle with hard questions.

Oh, you can despise your birthright and easily pass on your place at the communion table, your seat in the pew and your hand in helping others in the name of God. It’s as easy as eating stew. Living among the tents with the people is much more difficult. But in those moments of pain and comfort with God’s people is where God’s promise and marvelous works are experienced.