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 brothers,
To make music from the heart.
Poem by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)
Music by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)
One of my least favorite jobs of the year is taking down our Christmas tree. For weeks, it holds a place of honor in our living room, regal and pine-scented in all its branched and baubled loveliness. Then, we undecorate it and toss it on the curb. I’m told the city recycles it, mulches it into something that will breed life again. But I can’t help but feel a little emptiness as we put the lights and angels back into their boxes, and tuck Christmas on the shelf in our garage, to sit and wait another year.
The Christmas season is like a movie trailer – all breathless anticipation and excitement. My kids and I can hardly wait for the big day to arrive. We are so utterly beside ourselves – baking, wrapping, decorating, frolicking. It is easy to wish such easy joy could last. That our friends and family would always open their homes to us so eagerly. That we would always have this much candy lying around to nosh. That we would always feel this warm and wonderful and good and golden about all of humankind.
But if I am being totally honest, the Christmas season is almost too much for me. There is so much fullness, so much chatter, so many crowds. I consume so many cookies. The gifts are torn open with such rapidity. And as much as I love a good party, I find myself limping a little around the new year, craving salad, yoga, and stillness. After so much Christmas-ing, I need to regroup.
Today, with the end of Christmas heavy in our hearts, our family visited a church on a hill in search of a new vista and maybe a new message to begin a new year.
We found it in an a cappella hymn. “The Work of Christmas Begins” burned right through this dim day, and warmed my heart. Because it turns out that the day when we place our lifeless tree on the curb, well, that’s the moment when the real ministry of Christmas starts. In these quiet days after the hullabaloo, now is when we compose ourselves and live the words that we ate, drank, and celebrated only a few days ago. With the tree gone, we have more room to feed the hungry and welcome strangers. With the travel completed, now is the time for our real Christmas journey to begin. To minister to new parents, and offer gifts to the poor. To set aside judgment of faiths and families different from our own. To offer thanks for shelter, warmth, comfort, and love. Now is the time to follow bright stars and dwell in the goodness of all that is possible.
Yes, the parties are over.
But the celebration is just beginning.
And this healing real work of Christmas lasts all year long.