When the star in the sky is gone,
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 teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
— Howard Thurman
It is not only my favorite Christmas verse – this poem by Howard Thurman – it’s also my Christmas life preserver. It’s what I pull out and put on when I find myself floating in the vast sea of all there is to do, find, buy, wrap, bake, cook, plan and finish as the clock ticks down to the Christmas event.
It’s hard to keep your head above water when the culture is crazed, the media relentless, the pressure to “get it right” is everywhere. Ironic, isn’t it, that the very season that offers the message of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to All” brings instead “Stress on Earth, Bad Temper” to many!
And so – every year – Howard Thurman reminds me that the real work of Christmas isn’t about trees and tinsel but about peace and justice. “The Work of Christmas” calls us to resist the greatest temptation of all this blessed Christmas season: to “put Christ into Christmas” only to leave him there — to receive with joy the gift of the Word made flesh on this Christmas Eve and fail to live as the Body of Christ the other 364 days of the year.
And so as we celebrate the Christmas miracle of our brother Jesus born of our sister Mary — with all of its beloved trappings and traditions — may we also be given the grace to bring the hope of Christmas alive in the year ahead.
May we be given the courage to refuse to leave Christ only in Christmas but to follow in his footsteps by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God “in season and out of season.” And may we be given the energy and imagination to ask “what child is this” of each and every member of God’s beloved human family as we go out to do the work of Christmas.