When ‘The Mood of Christmas’ was published in 1973, Howard Thurman was already a legendary theologian, preacher and teacher. He taught or influenced leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, many social justice movements and inspired the not-so-famous as much as the famous.
Many more of his books and writings are much better known and more influential, but every Christmas I like to take some time with a short poem in this one called The Work of Christmas. Especially in these days after The Big Day, it’s an important reminder that Christmas isn’t over, it’s just beginning.
I don’t mean the tree or the decorations or even a creche, if you have one. By all means, put those away when you’re ready, and you may be ready on Boxing Day. The scraps of wrapping paper and natural trees are often out the door first. You might do the Twelve Days of Christmas or somewhere in between. Put the stuff away when you’re ready.
But, at its best, the stuff can draw us into the story and give us signs and symbols that remind us of special moments. What’s at the heart of the story can’t be put away with the stuff because what’s at the heart of the story is a beginning. A new life is begun in that stable, yes, but also a way that is true and life-giving. The child will grow up to show us that we are filled with love and light, grace and kindness and how we might live that into the world, too. That’s how “the work of Christmas begins” now.
As we come to the end of a calendar year, there is an ending and a new beginning there as well. Perhaps it’s also a good time to consider what we might be putting behind us and what we might be stepping into, what things we might put away and what work needs to be done. Perhaps Thurman’s words aren’t just about the Christmas story, but our own stories too. Here’s what he wrote:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and the 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 brothers,
to make music in the heart.