With all due respect to those who celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas and make a special point of Epiphany, I am not much for Christmas decorations after Christmas Day. So much of our Advent/Christmas time is focused on preparation and expectation that, once the Day has come and gone, I am ready for the stockings and the tree to come down. I started hearing "Here Comes Santa Claus" playing in Target just after Halloween, and I sang the great choruses of "Messiah" weeks ago. I have spent these weeks of Advent looking forward to what will happen. And now it has happened. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," beautiful as they are, have lost most of their meaning for me today, December 26.
I need to rethink that attitude. Christmas is not over. Yesterday, the Day, celebrated the birth of a child, and today, the next day, is just barely the beginning. Perhaps the time for "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus" and "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" have passed, perhaps the angel-song and anticipation are over, but the true celebration should just be getting revved up. "Joy to the World," "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly," and the "Come and worship" refrain of "Angels from the Realms of Glory" mean more today than they did on December 24.
And perhaps there is a message there for us all. Don't worry; I am not here repeating the overworn complaints about the consumerism and secularism that have overcome Christmas (true though they are). I am instead focused for now on those of us for whom the "religious" nature of the holiday is paramount.
It is paramount, but it is far too often short-lived.
For Mary and Joseph, Christmas Day was a beginning, not a culmination.
For shepherds, seeing the angelic host and making the trip to the manger were incredible, to be sure, but scripture tells us that they returned to the fields, glorifying and praising God. Christmas Day was not the end.
For an unnamed innkeeper, whom scripture does not describe but who has captured the minds of poets and playwrights for centuries, that single night must have been the catalyst to spending the rest of his days contemplating who that baby really was.
For traveling magi, Christmas Day produced nothing more than a guiding star, and their journeys were just beginning. They would not meet Jesus for (depending on your interpretation and your tradition) days, weeks, or even years.
For Jesus, birth as a human being was a singular transition, but it was neither the beginning nor the end. It was a step, and there were many, many steps to follow.
Christmas Eve was a tender moment for reflection, promise, hope, and waiting. Christmas Day was a singular celebration of miracle, promise fulfilled, hope recognized, and God incarnate.
And then what? As I pack up stockings and undecorate the tree, do I return too fast to the routine? Do I turn away from the manger and the angels and the star without a second thought? Do I too quickly leave the pageantry and the ribbons and the bows and the beautiful lights without taking forward the reason we make such an effort for extravagant and unusual beauty in December?
Charles Dederich, recovered alcoholic and founder of a successful rehabilitation program, is famous for saying - although he may well not have been the first - that "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." Well, I am taking great liberties with that thought, but for us Christians, December 26 is the first day of the rest of our faith, and if that faith is not built on miracle, promise fulfilled, hope recognized, and God incarnate, we are in serious trouble. Christmas must continue long after Christmas Day is done. Christmas celebration must characterize our lives on December 26, and in January, and in August.
So let Alexa play that Christmas playlist for another little while. If you cannot bear to keep your tree up, at least leave a candy care or two sitting around for a few extra days.
Bring a torch, come hurry and run. There's a song in the air, for the manger in Bethlehem cradles a king. Chains shall He break, and in His name all creation shall sing.
Come and worship. Come and worship. Worship Christ the newborn king.