The days after Christmas can be a letdown. For weeks, sometimes months in advance, we prepare for the coming of this single day. We write Christmas lists, gather lists from others, go shopping for gifts, put up decorations, listen to seasonal music, plan elaborate meals, arrange travel plans, light candles on the Advent wreath, and then the day comes and goes in 24 hours just like any other day. Then what?
All of that build-up for a brief few moments that swiftly join the stream of ordinary time leaves us with a sense of both fatigue and bewilderment. What comes next?
Christian theologian and mystic, Howard Thurman**, viewed the days after Christmas from a spiritual perspective. He wrote a poem, “The Work of Christmas Begins,” to express his sentiments.
Properly understood, our work is only just beginning after Christmas. Followers of Christ have been commissioned to walk the path he did: to bind up the broken-hearted; to preach good news to the poor; and to proclaim liberty to the captives. With the incarnation and the Godmade flesh, we have a deeply-altered and imperative “to-do list” far outlasting our greenings, merriment, and gift-giving.
Christmas brings the incarnate God, the Prince of Peace, to humanity. In this prince’s kingdom mercy, justice, and love reign. As citizens of this heavenly kingdom and members of this royal household, Christ’s followers serve as ambassadors of this kingdom ethic. Now, in the days after Christmas, our work is only just beginning.
From The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations by Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
So much of the Christmas season is shaped by commercialism, hedonism, and sentimentalism. But the true significance of Christmas is more than a sweet story of the miraculous birth of a baby who was immediately worshipped by shepherds and, eventually, by the magi.
As Thurman suggests, we have not properly celebrated Christmas unless we have committed ourselves afresh as the hands and feet of Christ, Jesus' ambassadors to a world in need. Led by the example of Christ, reflecting on his commission by the Prophet Isaiah 58:6-8, inspired by the great commission in Matthew 26, let us get to work.
This is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.
Now that Advent has been observed and Christmas has been celebrated, in both secular and religious ways for most of us, let’s get on with the work and blessing of Christmas. Then, we will have truly celebrated the birth of Jesus.
Doing the work of Christ,
** Howard Thurman (November 18, 1899 – April 10, 1981) was an influential African American theologian, author, philosopher, educator, and civil rights leader. He spent more than two decades as a Dean of Chapel, first at Howard University and then at Boston University (where he was the first African American to hold this position at a majority-white U.S. university), wrote more than twenty books, and in 1944 co-founded San Francisco’s Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples: the first integrated, interfaith religious congregation in the United States.
Father Bill Burk†