So, Christmas is over. The wrapping paper and stray boxes are all bagged and set out for the trash man. The turkey and stuffing did its’ duty and stuffed whoever partook – mostly those who promptly fell asleep on the couches and chairs spread liberally around the television. The tree is still lit, but if my wife had her way it would be taken down Christmas evening. The frivolity is done, the joy is over, and the season of giving goes back in the box to await another year. Time to get back to reality, the cold of winter, the day to day struggles of living.
Aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents all go their way in a day or so. Some visitors get tears when they go. Some get a big sigh of relief, but they are family after all. So now it is back to the immediate family that sticks around all year, going to school, working jobs, hanging out on the couch. Well … Christmas is over, right?
Christmas day is the first day of the Christmas season. There are twelve days of Christmas altogether, like the song says. Sunday, the 29th of December is actually the fifth day of Christmas. So, have you got your five golden rings yet? Well, I am sure they are in the mail.
The Christmas season officially ends on January 6th. That is the day of Epiphany, when the wise men came to visit, and in fact the visit may have been as much as a year later. If you read the gospel lesson for the day (Matthew 2: 13-23), you will note that Herod ordered his soldiers to kill every boy two years old and younger; just to be sure he got the child who would be King. Herod didn’t know the angels came and warned Joseph, so he took Jesus to Egypt to be safe.
But the point here is that Christmas is not over. No, that does not mean we should turn our homes into the Holiday Inn Express for another 12 days. It does not mean more shopping madness for hit or miss presents, or more cooking madness, or more turkey. The turkey is endless after only one day. We already face turkey sandwiches, hot turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, turkey tetrazzini, turkey tacos and turkey a-la-king as it is. No. Instead, it means sharing the spirit of Christmas: peace on earth, good will toward all. It means loving our family because they are, after all, family. It means loving our friends and neighbors as ourselves, and considering the poor and needy, the homeless and heartbroken in the earth. that Spirit of Christmas is not over.
I was thinking there is a person in my neighborhood who did not appear to have anyone on Christmas. Being alone is hard at all times, but especially at Christmas. We need to remember the widows and orphans, and the widowers to be correct about it. I was thinking of getting a small thing. I have Christmas paper left. I might wait until she goes out and then leave it on her front porch. I could sign it, “From a Christian who is thinking of you this Christmas season and praying that your days may be blessed.” A scarf or a pair of mittens would not cost much. Maybe a calendar would do. Even a left-over Christmas card would say I care. That is what most people want and need. Simply to know that someone cares.
Christmas isn’t over. We are only now in the middle of the season. And that makes it a good time to share the message of peace on earth, good will, and love.
I saw Scrooge this year. How many of you saw some version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol? I prefer the 1951 version that starred Alastair Sim, in black and white of course. This year, there were two lines in particular that stood out in my mind.
The first, I am sure, is well known. When being visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge implies that it is unfair that Jacob should be fettered with chains. After all, he did nothing so wrong. He was merely a good man of business. Marley wails, a perfectly frighteningly wonderful ghostly wail, and then responds. “Mankind was my business!”
We know this, kind of instinctively. Mankind is our business too. The problem is, how do we work that out in a practical way? All I can say is most of us honestly don’t do a very good job of it. We pack up Christmas in many bags and boxes as soon as we can, and put away faith, hope and love, peace and good will, and the spirit of giving – all neatly tied up in a box and set back up on the shelf until next year. Only the little children have the good sense to complain. Little children say things like they wish every day was Christmas.
But then, the second line that stood out to me might not be familiar to most people. It was said by the Spirit of Christmas Present and might have zoomed by the casual watcher. He said, “We spirits of Christmas do not live for only one day, but through all 365 days of our year; like the Christ child does not live one day, but every day in the hearts of men.”
So, we get to the point probably most of you knew I was headed for from the beginning. I like the way Ronald Reagan said it: “Let us resolve to honor this spirit of Christmas and strive to keep it throughout the year.” Christmas is not over. It should never be over. Love, joy and peace should be on the plate every time we sit down to eat, even if it is turkey meatballs. Love joy and peace should be written into the things we need to do today. Keep the spirit of Christmas alive.
Now, I know for so many of us that might not be so easy. Like the angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life said, “This isn’t going to be so easy.” Here, at last, we get to the passage in Hebrews and I think it is instructive for us, because he speaks or the reason Jesus was born in the manger, the son of Mary. The reason for the season, if you will.
He begins by calling those in Christ sons and daughters of glory, made so by the suffering of Christ. All those who are in Christ are the children of God. That is you and me. We are the children of glory, but then, of course, being sons and daughters makes us quite naturally brothers and sisters with Christ who is himself not at all ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. So we are the children of glory, and also the family of God.
Now, Christmas is a time for family, and even more than our immediate family, more than our flesh and blood family, it is a time for our church family, or what I prefer to call our real family. We are the ones who were made a family by the one who was born in the manger. We are all brothers and Sisters in Christ, and it is right that we should celebrate together. The Christ of Christmas is our brother after all.
An elder in a church got word once that a young member was in the lock-up, arrested for DUI. After church, he sighed and said, “I suppose I better go down and bail him out.” The man was no flesh and blood relation, so the person beside him asked a very logical, earthly question.
“Why should you bail him out? He’s a no good drunk and a bum. You should let his family deal with him.”
The elder looked at his companion. “His family is dealing with him. He is part of God’s family, our family here in the church. Instead of criticizing him, we ought to be praying for him that he may have the good sense to seek the help he needs to work through and get over his problems. But we are not going to abandon him just because he is presently full of sin. Christ certainly did not abandon us just because we were full of sin.”
We are family, the real, eternal family. That means we are here all year long to help one another keep the spirit of Christmas alive all year long. So you see, it something we do not have to do alone. We are brothers and sisters, seated side by side every Sunday morning, sharing Christmas every Sunday morning.
You know, there were time throughout history that Christians way back in the middle ages in Christian communities, and then after the reformation, Christians in various denominations called one another brother and sister. Brother Bob and Sister Mary. Sadly, after a generation, the meaning was lost and it became something of a title, like Doctor Jones or Reverend Smith or Brother Tom. But at the beginning it was an expression of who the people were, family in Christ. The family of God. And like any family, we are supposed to be there to encourage one another in love and joy and peace; to hel0p one another, meet one another’s needs, and make sure no one is left out.
You know, there are a lot of church traditions that many young people think of as silly and a bit strange. We sing happy birthday to people, note anniversaries and remember those who have passed away. We share the good things in our lives and also the troubles, and we pray for one another, for family members in need of prayer, and also for friends of the family, even if they are not members here. We share in the spirit of giving, and give liberally to help support the family and the family home which is the church. And we encourage one another, not just on Sunday, but throughout the week. We encourage love, joy and peace. But when you think about it, that is what families do.
You know, all families are made up of those who are born into the family and those who marry in, or are like adopted from the outside. And the young people need to be reminded that every family has a grumpy old uncle and a persnicity aunt and that cousins are not always the ones the young people would pick. They might refer to Matilda and her children as Aunt Matilda and the freak parade, but they are family all the same. Likewise, some of the older members of the family perhaps need to be reminded that when they miss church they are in fact missing family time, and we miss them when they are not here.
So the writer to the Hebrews goes on to explain that Jesus is not a stranger to us. He brings us together as a family of brothers and sisters, people who might otherwise be strangers in this world, but he, himself is no stranger to us. He became like us, human, flesh and blood. That is what the Christ child is that was born on Christmas morning. But he was born so that he might tell us about the relationship between ourselves and God. He tells us about God, and invites us to follow after him into eternity. And then he suffers, struggles with temptation just like we do, and offers us forgiveness, a clean slate every day.
The baby born in Bethlehem gives us light and life, so we can walk in love, joy and peace every day, not just on Christmas day. Christ was born and lives not just on one day, but every day in the hearts of his people. He is a faithful high priest, being just like us, and in him forgiveness and mercy and grace and life have no end. So the spirit of Christmas: the spirit of giving, of peace on earth and good will toward all, of love and sharing with family and friends should have no end. That much is up to us. We are his disciples now.
So here we are, waiting for our five golden rings. I assume they are in the mail. Then again, they may only be available after we enter into glory. We shall see …