I am finding out that Christmas is a lot more fun after December 25 than before. Before, there is so much angst. It’s a time well known for the stress of shopping, trying to anticipate expectations, planning, missing deadlines, packages that don’t come, last-minute pulling rabbits out of hats, and the inevitable disappointment of someone. Even in church, we celebrate the advent — the coming of the savior of the world. It’s a longing — a waiting. Each Sunday we light another candle leading to that final one on Christmas Eve. That’s all well and good, but is it ever going to get here?
Yes, Christmas is magical, especially for the children as well as the child in all of us — like the Polar Express bell that rings only for those who truly believe. Yet all that magic does come with a price — the price of expectations that have been building since Halloween.
But after Christmas, we slow down a bit. We take a breath. We did it! And by golly, everybody had a good time, except for Uncle George for whom a good time is impossible. We throw another log on the fire, then sit back and notice there’s a beautifully-decorated tree in our living room. The pressure is mostly off and we can enjoy everything; for some, it may be for the first time.
So now that we managed to get Jesus born (it took us weeks to finalize that), we can get on with the rest of the story that finally involves us. We can get to His life, His miracles and the teaching of the disciples, His death and resurrection, His ascension into heaven, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the formation of the early churches, the teaching of Paul, and finally — and here’s where we come in — the rebirth of Christ in our hearts by way of the Holy Spirit. Here is where the hymn writer brought it home to us: Cast out our sin and enter in / Be born in us today.
So as we reflect on all this beautiful stuff still around us (or if your stuff is down and put away, reflect on the fresh memories of your house lit up for Christmas), we use the moment to remember “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This is the real mystery — not only the hope of glory someday, but the hope of glory now — the power to change — the power to be who we really want to be. The first birth made possible the second one, and the second birth is here and now. No waiting for this one! We are finding out what it means to have Christ born in us.
A week ago I wrote about Candlemas and how in some traditions, they don’t take down their Christmas decorations until February 2. That day corresponds with the purification rites of presenting Jesus to the priest in the temple, 33 days after his circumcision (Luke 2:22-40). This was done for all firstborn Jewish males. At the time, I was mostly joking about that February 2 date for taking down Christmas, but I’m getting more interested in this as the days move on. Think of it this way: If you keep Christmas going until February 2, you in effect eliminate the month of January, and who, with the exception of celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, wouldn’t just as well lose the dreary month of January? So we’ve got December until February 2 and then its less than 4 weeks to spring training with Valentine’s Day in between! I’m not sure our tree can make it for two more weeks, but I’m up for trying.
Note: For a brief teaching on those purification rites and what happened when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, visit our church service last night at www.facebook.com/thecatch.