News and Views

The Work of Christmas

Posted by Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling on

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.

Many of us are familiar with this poem written by Howard Thurman in The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations. It is a beautifully written piece that beckons us to understand Christmas as more than a day or even a season. We know that the world has already moved on from the holiday as Christmas carols have ceased and the accouterments in store windows have miraculously morphed into pink and red hearts.

But I do not believe this abrupt shift only occurs in the secular community. Even within the church, the transition away from Christmas and all that it entails gives way to either returning to our regularly scheduled worship services or preparing for Lent. The spirit of Christmas that moves many to visit nursing homes to sing carols or share a meal, the concern for feeding the hungry that takes us to food banks or community centers in November and December suddenly ceases. And yet, the need of the lonely and hungry continues. Even more importantly, our missional call to be the hands and feet of Christ does not dissipate after Christmas.

Thurman’s words remind us that the birth of Christ, the coming of “Emmanuel” – God with us – is the literal embodiment of God’s call to all disciples. Yes, the life of Christ is an example of how to resist temptation, remain faithful and obedient to God and sacrifice all else in pursuit of God’s call. It is also a living witness and testimony to the daily pouring out of love, healing, presence, advocacy and sacred action. We intentionally prepare for the birth of Christ during Advent, celebrate the incarnation during Christmas and Christmastide, and we live the truth of Emmanuel every day.

I have appropriated the phrase, “Transformed Lives Transform Lives” as a way of expressing my belief that as we are transformed by the gift of grace, we cannot help but live that transformation. As we have experienced God’s forgiveness, we will forgive others. As we have experienced God’s unconditional love, we will unconditionally love others. As we have experienced the presence of God in our darkest hours, we will offer the ministry of presence to others.

The kind of transformation I am referring to does not occur instantaneously. The moment John Wesley described as one’s “heart being strangely warmed” may occur in an ecstatic moment, but the real transformation is deepened through the disciplines of meditation, prayer, study, fasting and service. I witnessed this kind of transformation in the lives of those who engaged in the 34-week Disciple Bible Studies. I have not met one individual whose life was not radically changed after participating in that long-term study.

Over the last few days I have seen a cartoon by JM Nieto that I believe illustrates Thurman’s message quite profoundly. Two characters are conversing and the first asks, “Why so optimistic about 2019? What do you think it will bring?” The other responds quite boldly, “I think it will bring flowers.” The first then asks, “Yes? How come?” To which his friend replies, “Because I am planting flowers.”

Like the second character in the cartoon, I am optimistic about 2019. Not because I am naive or in denial about the fear and angst surrounding the Special Session of General Conference, or the challenges any particular vote may produce. Rather, I am excited because I also hear persons talking about our mission, our core mission, the mission of Jesus Christ. I hear conversations acknowledging that the need for evangelizing will be as great on March 1, 2019, as it was in the days of John the Baptist. I see persons winnowing away the non-essentials and reclaiming the essentials of our faith. This gives me great hope.

May we boldly and faithfully proclaim that this will be the year of deep discipleship and spiritual growth.

How can we make this prediction? Because we will be doing the work of Christmas every day.

We are planting flowers.