For most people Christmas is a rapidly-diminishing memory. The unwanted gifts have been exchanged or returned, the decorations pulled down and boxed up for another year, and the added weight finally accepted--with renewed zeal applied to diets or exercise routines. January has come. What of Christmas?
For the remnant of Christians in our country who know that the “12 Days of Christmas” are not the twelve shopping days before December twenty-fifth, there is both a privilege and a certain sorrow along about now each year.
For us, Christmastide is alive, though in its final phase. Most of us have our trees up, are listening to carols (especially recordings of some of the more obscure compositions about the season), parties are being given, and the merry lights of the season shine still, culminating in the Epiphany with its delight in finding Christ and worshipping Him. Only then do we take down many of our decorations (leaving some up, perhaps, for Candlemas on February 2). True, we stick out like sore thumbs in the neighborhood or the apartment complex, but we remain faithful to the season’s full dimension. This is our joy; the sorrow is that something so beautiful as Christmastide has to be consumed and tossed aside with such alacrity in a culture that seems unable to savor anything.
The last days of Christmastide provide a gentle period of continued feasting and reflection. We feast on food not only for the body, but for the soul—recalling a truth that it takes both kinds of food to be truly nourished (this is the reason for so much of the hunger out there that cannot be filled with more snacks alone).
We also reflect on what it means to live with an incarnate Savior. That God came into the world in the flesh has always been a scandal to many. It is so—well—messy. After all, we normally have this thing pretty well figured out: God stays in heaven and we stay busy on earth. Everyone stays in the lines, and we get to worship the surety of “death and taxes.”
But now here comes the Christ-child, born into our world…the one we have come to think as our own. He comes in peace, but must in fact fight a war. He comes to be our friend, and yet we so often try to turn him into the enemy because he broke “the rules” of division between ourselves and our God—the rules we so rigidly enforce.
So now we arrive at the end of Christmastide. In the world around us, things are getting back to normal, “normal” here meaning we return to our lives of work and worry, and God—to the degree God was invited to the party to begin with—is put back into heaven. With April 15 now on the horizon, death and taxes are enthroned once more.
Not for us, However. These waning days of Christmastide provide space to contemplate the truth that we may never go back to the “old life” before Christ Jesus. God is in the world. Our lives are being transformed. Hope is available. Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. We may choose to look away, but the light is still shining, and we are called to be people of that light, doing the works of the light, and bringing others out of the darkness of fear and loneliness into the warmth of fellowship in Christ. The star leads us on to Bethlehem...again and again.
So, a merry late Christmas to you, and (through you) to others!