Christmas – it all gets tangled up in our thinking like the lights we unpack from last year to string around the new tree.
Half remembered songs; stories from the Bible but who said what, and which bits were in the Bible and which have been added to the legend? We three kings of Orient are, for example. No kings in the Bible, and no number. Familiar yet unfamiliar. But still comfortable and not shocking as the story would have been when first told. The idea of God in the ordinary was a shocking one. The sacred should be kept separate from the stuff of common life lest it be contaminated. Yet here is a story – the historicity of it is not the issue – that suggests the divine is to be found in a barn, in a place of sweat and dung. And while astrologers might have brought expensive gifts, the scene was also witnessed by common working men, shepherds more used to the rituals of lambing than the rites of religion. The story overturns our expectations of the place of the divine in human experience, but the challenge doesn’t end there. Christians later came to say, “Jesus is Lord.” So what? Well, if Jesus was Lord, then Caesar was not; if Jesus is Lord, then Cameron is not, nor any other worldly leader. That is not to say that Christianity is not interested in politics – if it isn’t, it is too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use, as someone said. It is to say that we march to the beat of a different drum. What does that mean? A little Christmas piece from Howard Thurman reflects the ministry of Jesus to suggest the drumbeat that governs the Christ-like life:
“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 the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…
And to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.
— Howard Thurman, adapted