God enters the “real world,” still . . .
It’s the Sixth Day of Christmas, even if most of us have moved on. A season of 12 days, Christmas continues until the Day of Epiphany, January 6, the day tradition assigns to the arrival of the Magi to worship the newborn king.
Rebecca and I had friends years ago when we lived in New Jersey who observed the 12-day season of Christmas with daily devotions, festive candlelight meals and family outings. For the Schroeder’s, the season concluded on the Day of Epiphany with the opening of their Christmas gifts, remembering in that tradition the gifts brought by the Magi to the infant Jesus. The 12 Days of Christmas were intentional for my friends, a time of living into the “God with us” proclamation with a deliberate unfolding of the Christmas story in family observance and unique daily traditions.
As attractive as a 12-day Christmas observance would be, a holiday that would occupy the better part of two weeks, Christmas comes and goes for most of us amid the busyness of our daily lives. Some have the privilege of Christmas/New Year’s vacationing, and our children have time home with their families during holiday breaks, but the Christmas décor and the Christmas spirit tends to be boxed up in many homes as quickly as the wrapping paper is disposed of and festive holiday meals are concluded. A 12-day pause for devotional reflection and observance of the holy days is hard to imagine.
In many ways, the birth of Jesus was likewise a moment in time amid the busyness of the world around him. The following reflection embracing that reality was penned by Methodist Pastor Tom Long:
Whenever we long to have a Christmas as pure and as holy and as innocent as the scenes on our Christmas cards, we run the danger of missing the whole point of Christmas. The writer of Luke is careful to remind us that the day of Jesus’ birth was not a holy day, but a working day. Jesus was born not during a worship service, but during a tax census. The day when Jesus was born was at time, so to speak, of the ringing of cash registers, people standing in long lines to beat the deadline, snarled traffic, and crowds so thick that there was not a hotel room to be found. When the angels announced Jesus’ birth, it is not to priests lighting candles in the temple; it was to shepherds earning their livelihood in the fields. The true meaning of Christmas is that God entered the real world of flesh and blood in Jesus Christ. As we look around us at the people whose eyes betray their many burdens, we can know that the news of Christmas is truly for them, and for us, too. “To you is born this day a Savior . . .” 1
“As we look around at the people whose eyes betray their many burdens . . .” Even in our busy world, Christmas 2020 carries more profound burdens of the “real world” in ways that are unfamiliar to us. The trek “home” to families and friends, with all of its wonders and challenges, was compromised for most of us this Christmas. We make those trips each year to “be counted,” to be present with our family, our friends, our tribe, and to find solace in that familiarity. Electronic video platforms provided some semblance of that gathering at Christmastime in this pandemic year, but the “real world” was deeply challenging to our aspirations to journey home for Christmas. For those facing the deeper challenges of compromised health, economic uncertainty, food insecurity or deep isolation, there was not much to celebrate this holiday season. Many burdens are being borne in our world at this time.
The Holy Family traveled as they marked the birth of a savior. Joseph made his journey with Mary to be counted among his tribe for the government. Rather than a warm reception, a rich meal, or an extra bedroom, Joseph and Mary were dislocated and relegated to a stable. Yet it is precisely here that the great homecoming takes place. In the stable Jesus arrives, and what began as an order of the Roman Empire becomes the in-breaking of the realm of God.
My sisters and brothers, that in-breaking of the realm of God continues, and we do need to pause to perceive it. We may not be able to dedicate a 12-day observance to contemplative spiritual disciplines to nurture that perception, but God works with our busy world and our busy lives and invites us to enter the unfolding story of God’s overarching love and promise. Open the gift we’ve been given in the wondrous story of “God with us.” “To you is born this day a Savior.” The good news of Christmas is truly for us. God enters the “real world,” still . . .
Blessings to you, O people of Trinity, on this Sixth Day of Christmas and one of the last days of the long year of 2020. May you be safe, may you be well, and may you be held in love.
It remains a privilege to serve as one of your pastors.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Robert Linstrom