The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God… One week later, was the world truly any different? Was there a giant jump in the sheep futures market? Did the bears’ claws all fall out or did the wolves go on strike? Were social systems turned upside down so that instead of being considered gypsies, tramps, and thieves, shepherds became instant media darlings? I wonder if any of those certain poor shepherds suddenly found Caesar seeking out their advice on agricultural policy or J Lo wanting to marry them. Methinks not.
Probably those shepherds returned to their fields where they lay, to the same old smelly sheep, and the same big bad wolves, and the same stifling social ostracism. In other words, back to the same old same old. Back to the real world, where visions of angel choirs happen only after ingesting certain poor mushrooms and infant kings are decked out in the latest from Herods ‘R Us and not swaddling clothes. Under such circumstances who would blame them if they simply went on with life… and little if anything changed?
Most of us wouldn’t. Change the details around a little and those shepherd’s experience mirrors our own. Candlelight highs have given way to the flatline existence of daily survival and the strains of angel choirs have given way to the strains of muscles and joints as we grind away to earn our daily bread. Hey, hasn’t anyone noticed that the Prince of Peace has come to dwell among us, or are we too busy pushing and shoving in order to get that last after Christmas bargain?
No, it’s back to the same old same old for us. Back to the real world where I have lost count how many times in almost 23 years of ordained ministry I have either dealt with the reality of death (including my own dad’s memorial service 14 years ago) just before or right after that sacred date of 12/25 upon which no one, not even death, is supposed to dare to tread.
The Church in its wisdom has always known that the glow of Christmas gives way very quickly to the work of Christmas. December 26 is St Stephen’s Day, as we commemorate the first Christian martyr. December 27 is St. John’s Day, the day we commemorate the beloved disciple, who was also believed to have been martyred. December 28 is the day we commemorate the Holy Innocents, the victims of King Herod’s (and his modern analogues) fear and paranoia.
The glow of Christmas is over. The work of Christmas has begun. A baby’s cry quickly gives way to a mourner’s cry. Swaddling clothes are exchanged for grave clothes. The sweet smell of hay yields to the putrid stench of death.
The glow of Christmas is over. The work of Christmas has begun. The manger will be retooled into a cross and many will rise and fall because of it. That is what crazy old Simeon told Mary that day in the temple courtyard. And he promised her that a sword would pierce her own tender mother’s heart in the process. Such a deal I have for you, Mary… the glow of Christmas giving way to the work of Christmas.
The work of Christmas… The work of the incarnation in our hearts and in our lives retooling God’s dwelling within us into a cross-shaped throne from which God’s reign is extended to world. One life at a time; one day at a time. That’s the formula. That’s the game plan. It is a process of slow but steady infiltration. It is like water slowly but surely dripping a path through solid limestone. One life at a time; one day at a time. For each life and each day are of special importance to the Creator of time and space who cradles eternity in the palm of her hand.
One life at a time; one day at a time. The glow of Christmas is over. The work of Christmas has begun.
I am the Unlikely Pastor; welcome to my world and God's richest blessings for the New Year. Peace out.