by Demi Prentiss
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 flocks, 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 the people, to make music in the heart.
— Howard Thurman
A few days ago Christians celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, remembering the long-ago visit of kings from the East to a Jewish newborn. For Christians, the day marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas, and the beginning of an “ordinary time” season of the Christian year notable for its focus on Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry in first-century Palestine. In the here and now, Christians are busily packing away the candles and tinsel, the nativity scene and the Christmas decorations for another year.
It’s significant that only a few days after Epiphany, as we mark the Baptism of Our Lord, Jesus has zoomed forward in time from infancy to the beginning of his active ministry. On that day in many churches, congregations gather for baptisms of new members and the renewal of baptismal vows. Christians echo the Gospel reading for the day, proclaiming to one another God’s message of love heard from heaven at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.”
Standing with Jesus in the waters of baptism, we are equipped to begin what Howard Thurman called “the work of Christmas,” the work of all the baptized. For those of us who feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of that work, Br. Todd Blackham of the Society of St. John the Evangelist offers a reminder:
The Christ who was born in Mary is the Christ who was born in you at your baptism. The treasures and the promises of Mary are yours to ponder in your heart. Like Mary, they will carry us through the years when things just seem ordinary, when drudgery and monotony set in, when we are led, like Mary to the foot of the cross in our agony, our grief, and our longing. Even in the dark days of the tomb, the promises of Christ are waiting to be revealed in his resurrection.
For those of us at the beginning of a new calendar year, perhaps it’s appropriate that this week reminds us of baptism and the need to continue the work of Christmas. Our Christmas candles lit to push back the darkness of long winter nights need to burn longer than a mere twelve days. Our baptism calls us to light, in the word of Howard Thurman, “candles that will burn all year long.”
I will light candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
— Howard Thurman