The Work of Christmas
For our Christmas Day worship we oriented our service around a beautiful reflection by the great theologian and churchman, Howard Thurman, entitled, “The Work of Christmas.” In it, Thurman writes that the “work” of Christmas begins after the celebrations are over.
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone…when the shepherds are back with their flock,” it is then that the people of God are called to get down to the harder, often thankless tasks of “finding the lost, healing the broken, feeding the hungry…making music in the heart.”
Seen in this way, Christmas is less a holiday, a special time set apart for something different, and more an invitation to live and love a certain way from here on out.
Now, Thurman wrote these words almost 50 years ago, and I usually hear a few of my pastor friends cite them about this time each year. But this year it feels like I’ve seen them everywhere—in the newspaper, on social media. One friend even incorporated it into his annual Christmas note that he sends to friends and family.
It’s no secret that 2016 has been a hard year for many. A year when the deep divisions of race and class in our country have been exposed. A year when mass shootings, deadly confrontations with police, terrorism, war, and so many other atrocities have taken center stage. And so perhaps it is that now as much as ever we need this reminder of the great Christmas promise that God is at work in the world. Often out of site, and in people and places we would not expect. But nonetheless at work.
Thurman writes elsewhere,
The symbol of Christmas—what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. It is the cry of life in the newborn babe when, forced from her mother’s nest, it claims its right to live. It is the brooding Presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked paths straight, rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes stir with newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.
What crooked path will you make straight in the coming year? What tired part of your heart, or the heart of another, will you refresh? What dead hope will stir with the newness of life? And please remember that small things will do. Christmas is nothing if not a reminder of the power of small things in the hands of the God of creation.
Christ has come into the world, bringing light and love and the promise of new life. May this light, love and new life fall on you in the coming year.
And may we all join in the holy work before us of bearing these things to a world in desperate need of them.