There’s a poem that has been particularly meaningful to me over the past several years in our celebration of Christmas. Or, rather, as we move past our celebration of Christmas together. It was first brought to my attention in a message shared by our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, and has stuck with me ever since.
It is “The Work of Christmas” by 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 flock,
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 others,
To make music in the heart. (Emphasis mine)
Christmas is our celebration of the birth of Christ, our celebration of the coming of Christ, his first Advent among us, and is the beginning of the work that he came to do and to fulfill in his life.
There is work to do after all, and it was not enough that Jesus be born, but there was more to do once the fanfare was over and done. Which I wonder if sometimes that point gets lost in the fanfare of Christmas and the birth of the Christ child. Do we forget that this is only the beginning, the precursor, to the life that is to follow? That there was a grand purpose to his coming and work to be done once this baby grows up into adulthood?
And what was Jesus’ work among us? This Jesus, the glorious second person of the Godhead who took on flesh, who was born of the Virgin Mary, proclaimed the message of healing and restoration in the redemption which God was bringing to all the people. As we hear in Jesus’ first appearance in the synagogue in Nazareth, as he read from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And that is why the poem I shared has been important to me. Because Jesus’ birth as a baby is not the whole story, but it was the first waypoint in the life of Christ, in which his mission was to bring healing and restoration to a people living in darkness.
Likewise the poem reveals something important to our place in the world today, in the idea of incarnational living. That we, as the Body of Christ, be his hands and feet in the world, living out the mission of love that Jesus modeled for us in how we are to be with one another and our neighbor. That just as Christ came to us, we are now to go to all the world.
It is not enough that we come together to worship. There is also work to be done. God calls us to do more, because there is still darkness that needs to be cast out, brokenness to be repaired, wounds to be healed, relationships to be restored. And this is now our work to do as the Church, to bring hope and life and peace, and to spread the love of God into every corner of this world