For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

Growing up, it was the same holiday disagreement every year. My mother wanted to host a full house for Christmas: the more people, food and activity, the better. Her sister, my godmother, wanted a private, quiet Christmas with just family. The question was always: Who would be the chosen people?

When God first introduced Christmas, it was a family affair. Luke (often associated with the Gentiles) writes of the Jewish Messiah born in the city of David, fulfilling the song of Mary: “He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:54-55).

Jesus’ birth is gospel for God’s chosen people. Most Lutherans, being Gentile, would therefore not be included in the good news of Christmas.

Tomorrow, however, we celebrate Epiphany. Matthew (often associated with the Jews) writes of the magi, exotic Gentile visitors who signal that the gospel will cross the assumed boundary of salvation to welcome and include outsiders, and rather colorful ones at that. The child born at Christmas will send his followers to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

The gospel invitation is expanded beyond the family to anyone and everyone.

It should be no surprise that this leads to conflict. The first major division in God’s church, about which Luke writes rather politely in Acts, fractures along the fault line of Gentile participation in the story and movement of Jesus, “the king of the Jews.” Should Gentiles be included, and if so, on what terms? They are not part of the family.

Practically speaking, welcoming other people gets awkward and messy. Control is forfeited. Personalities clash. Plans change or become compromised. Dearly held hopes and expectations go unmet or get watered down. Misunderstandings escalate. Feelings get hurt. Worries mount. The outsiders won’t understand or appreciate. There won’t be enough for everyone. So many things can go wrong.

Surely the three of them also talked about all of this. Should they open up their house and invite others? I wonder about their conversation and decision making process. So many things could go wrong. So many things could go wonderfully right. Ultimately, the family – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – decided to take the risk. Creation happened.

Christmas is another holy risk grounded in that same generous, hospitable love, so it should be no surprise that it leads to Epiphany. God’s grace is consistently expansive, so the gospel keeps crossing lines: beyond family, beyond nation, beyond religious identity, even across the impenetrable border between divine and human. So it should be no surprise what will happen when this story reaches the line between death and life.

Brian Hiortdahl
Brian Hiortdahl is pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Sacramento, Calif., and an avid baseball fan.

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