When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
- Howard Thurman (November 18, 1899-April 10, 1981)
By Jeanette Arnquist
When I think about the “work of Christmas,” what comes to mind is the planning, the shopping, the decorating, the cooking, the wrapping and the feasting. I love Christmas. I love the Christmas liturgies, especially Midnight Mass. I love all the work that my family members and I put into decorating the house and creating the feast. I especially love being together with people I love. And I am usually exhausted by the time Christmas is over and I can finally put everything away and put the house back in order.
But, Howard Thurman is right. If we look at Christmas through the eyes of our faith, we will realize that the work of Christmas lasts all year.
Jesus didn’t come to live among us for the purpose of marketing, retail sales or even family gatherings. Jesus didn’t come so that we could replicate his image (as artists imagine it) on cards, or so that we could sing Christmas carols at midnight Mass or put trees inside our houses (a pre-Christian custom).
Jesus came to proclaim liberty to captives, to bring sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus never called upon us to worship him or even celebrate him. He called us to follow him.
What does that mean?
Jesus gave a new command: Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34).
Jesus told the rich young man to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor and follow him (Matt 19:22).
Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8: 34, Matthew 16: 24 and Luke 9:23).
I could go on here, but I won’t. I’m guessing that you get the idea. Jesus wants us to love one another and put that love into action focused on others, especially those who are suffering. That kind of action might be hard and involve sacrifice or at least being countercultural. Action that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and brings healing and peace is what we are called to. That action flows out of our love for one another and for God. That is the action that brings hope and life to the least of our brothers and sisters.
Every year there are voices that call us to “Put Christ back into Christmas.” If we really want to do that, we will make following Christ a priority every day, 365 days each year.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tucson, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.