The Work of Christmas

          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 to brothers and sisters,
          To make music in the heart.

                                                                  --Howard Thurman

As this issue of The Dove arrives in mailboxes and email inboxes, we are about halfway through the season of Christmas, the 12 days dedicated to celebrating the joy of the Incarnation, of God-With-Us. For the majority of us, Christmas is perhaps the most beloved time of the entire year, affording us the chance to gather with family or friends, to enjoy a change in rhythm and routine, to revel in new hope brought about by the annual remembrance of the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem.

But what happens when the star is gone from the sky and the wise men have returned to their distant lands; when the shepherds have gone back to their flocks and the angels have disappeared into the heavens; when there are garbage bins to put out and bills to pay, checkbooks to balance and diapers to change, clients to visit and cavities to have filled: in short, when life returns to normal? How are we going to be different, changed in light of the Light that has come into the world?

Like the magi, we have, if only metaphorically, been to Bethlehem during this Christmas time, and are given the season of Epiphany to ponder how we might become new. To paraphrase the 5th century theologian Peter Chrysologus: We have seen lying in a manger the One we followed as a star. The One formerly hidden among the stars is now in human form. We have seen heaven on earth and earth in heaven, humanity in God and God in humanity. What are we going to do with that experience? What is going to be transformed in us, now that we have been to Bethlehem? A relationship restored, perhaps, or a conflict resolved? A new act of compassion or a new perspective on earthly possessions and goods? A renewed dedication to prayer or time spent with the lonely and forgotten?

          When the song of the angels is still,
          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 become more and more what we already are: the people of God.