First Sunday After Christmas
“Let us joyfully participate in this holy disruption. Let’s offer welcome for another week to those who need it most…”
By Ben Cieslik, Co-Pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities
The following sermon was given by Co-Pastor Ben Cieslik of Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities on Sunday December 29, 2019. Bethlehem Lutheran Church is a collaborating congregation with Beacon. Following the Francis Drake Hotel fire, Bethlehem of Minneapolis felt called to extend their time hosting families in our shelter program. In this sermon, Pastor Ben inspires his congregation to continue giving well past the holidays, and to always be continuing the mission that all people have a home…
Dear beloved of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who was and is and is to come. Amen.
We don’t usually read Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus on the first Sunday after Christmas. This is a story that is most often heard in preparation for Christmas. This of course makes sense. Most of today’s reading centers around Joseph and Mary and what they’re going to do about this unexpected pregnancy.
The actual birth of Jesus is limited to only a couple words at the end of verse 25. It’s almost an afterthought. It’s all about Joseph and Mary having to navigate this incredibly difficult set of circumstances. It’s about Joseph needing divine intervention to keep the divine plan on track. Oh and by the way the kid was born and they named him Jesus.
It lacks a little something don’t you think?
There is none of the pageantry and beauty from Luke’s gospel that we read on Christmas Eve. There are no shepherds. There is no host of angels. There’s no bands of cloth and a manger. Mary doesn’t ponder and treasure things in her heart.
Matthew tells kind of a chaotic story. There’s been a fundamental disruption in this family’s life. Things were going well for Joseph and his bride to be. The marriage was arranged. Promises were made. The families had cemented this deal. All that they were waiting for was the wedding. Everything was proceeding as planned. Then boom Mary is pregnant.
Joseph has options. They’re not good ones, but he has options. He can divorce her. Or he can have Mary stoned, publicly for her unfaithfulness.
Matthew’s gospel says that Joseph was a good man, a righteous man, and so he planned to divorce Mary quietly. But an angel shows up in Joseph’s dream and further disrupts Joseph’s already pretty tumultuous life.
There’s a sense in which this is so incredibly familiar. Not the angel and a dream and the whole virgin birth thing. That’s pretty exceptional. No, I’m talking about a disruptive baby. That’s familiar. That’s normal. That’s human.
Babies mess things up. They’re beautiful and they’re sweet and they’re cuddly and all of those things. But a baby rocks your world. Even if you’re trying to have a baby. Even if it’s a part of your plan, a child still totally and fundamentally reorients life.
So the way Matthew tells the story of the incarnation, of God becoming one of us, of God becoming God with us, is so very real and so very human.
Welcoming life into this world is disorienting and disruptive. But God is familiar with the joy and the pain that comes with that. In Jesus God participates in the messiness of being born into this world. In Jesus God gets to know families and in-laws and adoptive parenting. In Jesus God comes in the most basic but world altering of ways. He is born just like us.
Babies happen every day. They’re a sign that life is continuing. That creation is ongoing. That Jesus would come in this way is a basic affirmation that God is not done with us yet.
But at the risk of stating the obvious, Jesus isn’t like other babies.
This is why you show up on the Sunday after Christmas, for these hard hitting and earth shattering insights. Jesus is not like other babies. That was more embarrassing to say out loud that I thought it would be when I wrote it.
Clearly Jesus is different, being the son of God and all. But what I’m after in clumsy fashion is to point to the fact that the disruptive force of this baby’s birth has ripple effects well beyond that of any other child.
When any child is conceived the parents of that child’s lives are upended. There is never any going back. The birth of a baby fundamentally changes their lives forever. But usually the disruption is limited to that immediate family. Grandparents no doubt get in on the act. Siblings lives are changed. But for everyone else, life goes back to normal.
But when the God-child is conceived, when Jesus is born into this world and there’s no going back. Christmas ushers in a constant state of disruption. Jesus, by his very presence on earth, stands in opposition to the forces that are working against Gods design. That’s why I find this chaotic portrait of the incarnation that Matthew’s gospel paints is so helpful. Even the mere whisper of Emmanuel, of God with us, in a dream throws the world into upheaval.
Jesus birth will bring foreign leaders, kings from neighboring countries to will give allegiance to him. The ruler of Jesus’ own country will slaughter thousands to try and prevent his power from being threatened. The most powerful empire in the known world will put Jesus to death because of the disruptive force that emanates from him.
Christmas, the birth of this baby is God’s refusal to allow things to get back to normal. You can’t encounter this baby and have things go back to the way they used to be. You are forever changed because of this one who has come to live on this earth for you. This world is changing, God is at work. God continues to come to us, to be with us, to remake this world in Gods own image.
Many of you know that we have been hosting three families here at Bethlehem since December 22. These families are currently experiencing homelessness and are participants in the Families Moving Forward. Families Moving Forward is a sheltering program that is coordinated by Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. Beacon is a critical outreach partner of Bethlehem and is doing extraordinary work to address the affordable housing shortages in the Twin Cities.
Over 100 volunteers from this campus have stepped up to help provide a safe and warm environment for two weeks at this Christmas. On January 4th, some of these families will be transitioning to long term supportive housing.
However, right now there are no congregations that have signed up to host the Families Moving Forward program starting on January 5th. Beacon would love to be able to welcome families who have been impacted by the fire at the Drake Hotel in downtown Minneapolis into Families Moving Forward. But they need a place to go.
I think we can be that place. We are already set up to host families. The physical space is set up. But an additional week will require new volunteers. It will require more meals to be prepared and more overnight hosts. It will mean more folks who can commit to welcoming families and creating safe space for kids. It will mean more set up at tear down for regularly scheduled events in this building. It will be a ton of work. It will disrupt a lot of our plans for how the coming weeks are supposed to go.
But this baby called Jesus who is born for us and with us is God’s holy disruption. This Christ child compels us to see the world differently, to see the world as God does. Jesus invites us to see one another as beloved and worthy of love.
Over the weekend we’ve been communicating with some of our keys volunteers who’ve been preparing to host these families for the last nine months. One of them said, I’m really tired. But I’m not as tired as parent without a home.
Let us joyfully participate in this holy disruption. Let’s offer welcome for another week to those who need it most. If you can help in anyway, whether its through meals or hospitality, through helping to turn this space over for events that are already scheduled. If you can show whenever and however, please let me know.
By tomorrow evening, I would like to be able to tell our partners at Beacon that we’re in. That we can help. That they can count on us for another week. Check your schedules. I know we need 100 volunteers to make this work. Be one of those people. Send me an email to let me know we have the people power to make this work.
God is with us. It’s both a promise and a challenge.