Since it is now after December 25, we are officially in the Christmas season. You might not know it from the stores since they’re already displaying Valentine’s day paraphernalia and even a bit of Saint Patrick, but we as Anglicans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, and others, are in the season of Christmas that lasts until 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany.
Gone are the Christmas carols from the radio although, thank God, there are still CDs and YouTubes that we can listen to. We hear the progressing Christmas story in church, and we’re still watching the kids play with their new toys and enjoying the Christmas tree. It’s a nice time of year.
This year, Christmas has been tinged with worry and concern and fear. The stock market went down like a rocket just last week, the government shutdown has frightened many people who have money invested, and the government shutdown, even partial, causes problems for those who depend on government services. We still have refugees on our borders begging to come in, but who are detained or turned back. Two children, separated from their parents by immigration, have died without their parents to hold them or to fight for their health and safety. It’s a lot to take in, and it makes for a very sad run-up to Christmas which supposed to be joyous and happy. It probably was joyous for most of us, but for others, it hasn’t been a happy Christmas.
In the Christmas story, it probably wasn’t a happy time for Mary and Joseph as they journeyed the miles to Bethlehem. Having been pregnant myself, I can only wonder that Mary could have borne such a journey on donkey-back or foot at a time so close to her delivery date. When they arrived, they found that there was no room for them in the inn, as the story tells us. Whether or not that is the way it happened, who knows? They could have had a space that was reserved for animals attached to that a house, or a spare room in the home of a relative, or any one of many possibilities. All we know is what the Gospels tell us, and, like news today, Bible stories can be slanted in favor of one opinion or belief over another. The Gospel stories were written by different authors for various groups of people, and so they differ even as three of them are very like in content.
We are still singing Christmas carols at church, and still are wishing people Merry Christmas, although wishes for a happy new year are coming up quickly. The greens and the poinsettias are gradually disappearing, but for many of us, the trees remain, the vestments and paraments are still white and gold, and we’re still rejoicing. That’s a good thing. Meanwhile, we hear the Christmas story with one eye on the news, and we wonder how far have we come with our reactions to that story and how we relate to it. How our actions guided by what we believe about that story?
As we continue to celebrate Christmas, we still have the opportunity to do things that perhaps we just didn’t have time for before the holiday began. Did we intend to contribute to a worthy charity, or help in a food bank, or supply gently used clothing and shoes to places where the less fortunate could obtain them? It’s not a matter of it’s time to do the housekeeping and clean out the closets; it is an opportunity to extend Christmas and the spirit of giving a little while longer. Just because Christmas Day is over for many of us, doesn’t mean that people aren’t still hungry, still needing warmer clothes or even toys for the children. I can’t think of anything sadder than a child for whom Christmas is just another day, wondering if there will be enough to eat, a dry blanket, or something to play with. They exist, in the homeless communities, in the slums, and other places where often the most miserable people are forced to call home. Jesus certainly didn’t get new toys. Mary and Joseph didn’t get each other expensive or romantic gifts unless you count the mutual love they both had for this miracle child. Families today don’t always have that opportunity either.
I can’t give up on Christmas yet. There’s still stuff to do, stuff that continues even after the Christmas season yields to Epiphanytide and beyond. I think I need Christmas to remind me that all year, even without beautiful colored lights and smells of evergreens, there is still a bit of Christmas inside, like the coals of a banked fire just waiting to be fanned into life again.
I’ll hang on to that metaphor for a while. Christmas is more than a pile of presents under a tree or huge festive meals. It’s about giving and receiving, just as we are supposed to give to those in need. After all, Jesus is a gift we receive all year long. We’re just trying to pay that gift forward as he told us to do.
Image: Christmas decorations depicting the Nativity, Flickr: Jeff Weese, CC BY 2.0, found on Wikimedia Commons
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.