The Work of Christmas

Christmas is almost over. Many people think is’t over on December 26th, but the Christian Tradition says Christmas lasts from December 25 to January 6. It’s where we get the idea for the Twelve Days of Christmas carol. Christmas did not become a major celebration in Christianity until the 4th Century. Easter has, and always be the primary Christian celebration. As the birth of Jesus became more important, the season of Advent/Christmas became part of the Christian calendar. I say Advent/Christmas because the season mirrors the Season of Lent/Easter in its design.

Lent is preparation for Easter and lasts 40 days. Easter is celebrated during Holy Week and the celebration Easter actually begins on Holy Thursday and lasts through Easter Sunday. The season of Easter then continues for 50 days and ends on Pentecost Sunday, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Advent is the preparation for Christmas and lasts for four Sundays. Christmas is celebrated for twelve days and ends on January 6, Epiphany, and celebrates the arrival of the Magi.

The heart of Christianity is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and Christmas reflects that in the Scriptures used during the season. What I mean by the scriptures is the scriptures outlined for use in the Revised Common Lectionary, a three year cycle of Sunday readings that covers pretty much the whole Bible during that time.

The scriptures for Epiphany emphasize the arrival of the Magi. But it is the Sunday scriptures before Epiphany that bear reflection. The Gospel for both Sundays is Matthew, which is where we meet the Magi. On the Sunday before Epiphany the Magi have come, given their gifts of gold, Frankincense and Myrrh and gone home.

The week before we hear about what happens after the Magi leave. I know this sound sort of backwards, but that is how the lectionary is laid out.

Joseph and Mary are forced to leave their home in Bethlehem and flee to Egypt because King Herod is intent on killing Jesus.

Jesus and his parents become refugees.

When Herod dies they are able to come back to Israel, but cannot return to their home in Bethlehem. They travel north into the district of Galilee and settle in a town called Nazareth. This is a much different narrative than the one in Luke’s Gospel.

Check it out. Matthew 2:13-23.

“Why is this important?” you might ask. For some it may not be. For some it is enough to feel nostalgic about Christmas, a sentimentality that, as Rev. Gary W. Charles puts it, “bleeds over into the church’s theology as baby Jesus rides with Santa on the way to battle the Grinch.”

Advents themes: joy and hope, peace and love, confront the reality that the world we live in often isn’t joyful or hopeful or peaceful or loving in Matthew’s nativity.

Christmas is almost over for this year. For this new year many of us have made resolutions. I hope and pray that Christians everywhere will make a resolution worthy of the Christmas story.

Sure, we can pledge to lose weight or not watch so much TV.

But what if the people of God resolve to live out the promise of Christmas every day, their prayer being, “I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us.” (Isaiah 63:7a) And in our recounting we respond with grateful hearts by extending the gracious deeds of the Lord to all people.

Or as my friend Jim Strathdee put it years ago,

“When the song of the angels is stilled. When the star in the sky is gone. When the Kings and shepherds have found their way home, the work of Christmas has begun.”