In his Christmas Message, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry quotes this poem by Howard Thurman:
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 flocks,
Then 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 others,
And alas, to make music in the heart.
This poem fits our current weeks, the season after Christmas Day perfectly. For us, the Episcopalians and many other Christians, our celebration of Christmas is but three days old. We have nine more days to go.
The 12 days of Christmas are intended as days of celebration as well as refection. In the reading of the Gospel of John assigned to this coming Sunday, John the Apostle tells us that Christmas as the story of the Incarnation sets the stage for a whole new order of life: the Word became fresh and lived among us full of grace and truth and we who received him and believed in his name were given power to become children of God.
The apostle John also says: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son…who has made him known.” John the Baptist “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him”. We, as children of God, should be the witnesses to testify to Jesus Christ and make God known to people.
A story is told about some Navy SEALs sent to free a group of hostages in one of the corners of the world. As they storm into the hiding place, they find the hostages huddled on the floor in a corner of the room. The SEALs tell them they are there to take them home. Get up and follow us. No one moves. They are so damaged by the experience of their captivity that they do not believe these are really people sent to set them free. So one of these SEALs does something: he takes off his helmet, puts down his gun, gets down on the floor, softens his face, and huddles up next to the captives, putting his arms around a few of them. No guards would do this. He whispers, “We are like you. We are here to be with you and to rescue you. Let us take you home. Will you follow us? One by one, the prisoners get up and are eventually taken to safety on an aircraft carrier and brought home.
Getting down on the floor with us, huddling up with us, leading us to freedom and taking us home, these are God’s works of Christmas – the Incarnation. Our works of Christmas should be following Jesus’ example as he quoted from the prophet Isaiah when he started his earthly ministry: to bring good news to the poor, 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.
Looking around us and around the world, people are captive to many things, unwilling to simply step away from those things that keep all of us in prison. In the midst of our lowliness, in the time of our testing, the Word became fresh and lived among us, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Welcome to the 12 days of Christmas. May they be the days that you see the Word made fresh scatter the darkness from before your path and empower you to give light to others as we are the people of light.