Merry Christmas: What's Next?
For those keeping score at home, we’re on our 6th Day of Christmas. Which means that, if you look under your pew, each of you is going home with 6 geese a-laying!
While the rest of the has moved on to Valentine's or Halloween or whatever, we’re still only halfway through Christmas. The Church sets aside 12 whole days to celebrate the birth of our Savior. This is because the reality of Immanuel - God with us - is so big, so earth-shattering, we can’t possibly begin to wrap our heads around it on just one day. And, if we’re honest, 12 doesn’t really cut it, either.
Growing up, the son of a pastor, my family always stubbornly left our Christmas decorations up through Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, when we celebrate the visitation of the Magi - more on that next week.
And so, in my household, Christmas Decorations are still up. The tree is still decorated, the star and garland hang in the window. At night our living room is filled with that unmistakably Christmasy light that only several hundred mini lights - warm white only - can provide.
Our Christmas traditions invite us, in the midst of the darkness of winter, and the darkness and business of the world-as-it-is to pause, and bask in the light and love of God. To spend time with family an friends. To share in the peace and joy and hope of promised at Christmas.
In this season of Christmastide, I often wonder what happened the day after.
Surely Mary and Joseph wake up well-rested after spending their first night with a new baby. That’s how that works, right?
The shepherds have come and gone. Those loud, smelly, men with the calloused hands and foul mouths who came and told these wild stories of angels and songs from heaven. That obnoxious drummer boy has finally stopped pa-rum-pum-pum-pumming.
But what happened the next day? Or the day after that? The shepherds went back to their fields. No doubt Mary and Joseph took turns trying to catch up on sleep and arguing over whose turn it was to change the diaper. At some point in these next days, Mary and Joseph would make their way to the Temple in Jerusalem so Mary could make an offering as part of the purification ritual required for women following childbirth. They don’t know yet that they will soon be forced to flee to Egypt as refugees. I imagine, each morning, when Mary and Joseph wake up, the world still looked pretty dark. Esp. after all this Messiah talk.
Augustus is still in power. The man who somehow managed to get the staunchly democratic senate of Rome to declare him Emperor and demand that Roman citizens revere him as a god.
The corrupt Roman sympathizer, Herod, was still king. The one who levied huge taxes to rebuild the Temple on a scale even greater than Solomon’s.
The poor, like Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds, were still oppressed. The hungry had not been filled with good things.
And yet, in the midst of that darkness, Mary woke up the next morning and picked up the Word of God, swaddled in bands of cloth, and bearing that distinctive new baby smell. And she held him in her arms. And that, it turns out, makes all the difference.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” This morning, we hear the portion of John’s Gospel which scholars refer to as the “hymn to the word.” Where Matthew and Luke focus on the particulars of Jesus’ birth and Mark ignores it altogether, John takes the cosmic view: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Here we translate the Greek word logos as Word, but Logos means so much more. Logos is more like insight, ideas, logic, wisdom, and intention all rolled into one. The Logos has been part of God since the beginning. Like Lady Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, the logos of God helped create the world and set the universe in motion. The logos of God is light and life. And the darkness cannot overcome it. And, in the fullness of time, “The logos, this distant, abstract thing, became flesh and lived among us.”
The story of Christmas tells us that God’s love for us is so reckless, so powerful, that God chooses to live among us as one of us. Knowing, that we would find his message of Grace and Truth, of Light and Life so contrary to the ways of this world, that we would reject him to the point of death. And, even then, when the time came, God’s love proved more powerful than death, and overcame death and sin, once and for all.
“The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
We use the New Revised Standard Version as our translation on Sunday mornings. While I generally prefer the NRSV, the King James Version translates that same verse particularly beautifully: “And the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.”
The light and love of God shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it.
And so, what happens the day after? Like Mary and Joseph, we too wake up to a world yearning for God’s Justice. It can feel overwhelming: as we put away the decorations, after all this talk of joy and peace, how can we possibly overcome the darkness of the world-as-it-is? The Good News is: We aren’t called to overcome the world’s darkness. That’s Christ’s job. But we are called to be light-bearers.
Each Christmas, I come back to this poem by theologian and civil rights leader 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.
The light of God shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not overcome it. The darkness can’t even begin to understand it. To Grasp what God’s light and love are all about.
Like Mary, carrying the Christ child in her arms, we, as followers of Jesus, are called to carry the light of God into the world.
And so, this Christmas season, remember that you are loved with a reckless, powerful love. Let that love shine in your heart. And reflect that light and love and grace of God to a world that so desperately needs it.