“Now the Work of Christmas Begins”
by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
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when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
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 the people,
to make music in the heart.
Since I’ve become a mother, I have to admit that I have a deepened respect and admiration for Mary, the mother of Jesus. All of that the angel told her must have seemed impossible to Mary. She faced a choice to say yes to God’s call to a very special service or to walk away from it, based on very little explanation. It took tremendous faith and courage to get past her first question of “How can this be?” and to finally respond, “Let it be with me.”
When I consider the “Work of Christmas” that Thurman writes about in the poem above, I find myself stuck at “How?” I really want to be a part of this work, to join in with what God is doing it in the world, but I am overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. To heal the broken, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people — how can this be?
Mary’s calling was far beyond anything most of us ever expect to be asked to do. But we are not so different from Mary. God does call us to do certain things, to live a certain life, to say yes. And while none of us expect God’s angel to appear to us with the kind of message Mary received, the truth is that at any moment, any one of us could take part in some mystery that will change the world. Like Mary, our choices often boil down to yes or no. Yes, I will embrace this challenge before me, or no, I will not. Yes, I will take this next step in faith, or no, I will not.
When we say yes and allow God to be born in us, then the work of Christmas can begin. This birthing process is risky, even messy. There is pain and struggle, pushing and wailing. But when the labor is complete, we experience joy and hope and love like we had never imagined. We feel as if our heart is walking around outside of our body. And the love we come to know reorients our whole way of living.
This love seeks out the lost; it breaks our hearts with compassion for the broken and hungry; it encourages us to speak out against injustice. This holy love calls us to rebuild and to mend, and when we see the beauty of God’s good world, it causes us to sing out in thanksgiving and praise.
So, through this Christmas season, do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world, by the “How can this be?” All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go forth, loving intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light of God that is birthed in you.
The Rev. Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.