Let me begin today with a poem by the wonder philosopher and theologian Howard Thurman, as he reminds of the true meaning of Christmas in his poem, “The Work of Christmas.”
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,
And to make music in the heart.[i]
But how do Thurman’s words connect with The Word or the Logos from today’s Christmas reading? Well, the best way to understand this connection is to realize that the Bible is not just one book. It’s a collection of many books and ideas and worldviews, gathered across centuries by hundreds of people, and compiled into a library if you will, where “new ideas sit side by side with old ideas”[ii]. The theology of the Bible is vast, expansive, and complex. I can’t over-state this point! The books of the Bible and often parts within books of the Bible, were independently written.
But that doesn’t mean the books are disconnected. The Bible, in my view, has an overarching story of progress. Theologian Rob Bell says, “The stories in the Bible – and the Bible itself – have an arc, a trajectory, a movement and momentum like all great stories have”[iii] And I would add, like all great stories the Bible has a central theme. And that theme is “love of God and neighbor.” This is the reoccurring premise we see over and over again in the Hebrew Scriptures and from the mouth of Jesus in his words and teachings. You see, Jesus was, and continues to be, the greatest revelation of who God is, and who we’re supposed to be as humans. That’s the point of the incarnation, of Christmas, of our very existence. So, it’s important to understand that the Bible is finally not a field guide about how to get to heaven. Rather, it’s about, in the words of John, “light and life.” Jesus came to be that light that guides us into an abundant life. And not just for ourselves, but beyond ourselves.
I think we sometimes forget the second part. We’re called to experience life beyond our selves, our own comfort, our own pleasure, and our own concerns. And we are challenged to experience God beyond our group of peers, reaching out to and interacting with people who may not look, or speak, or act like us with open minds and hearts. This is why the Bible, and subsequently, our shared journey of faith is on-going. This is why we in the United Church of Christ say, “God is Still Speaking.” The Bible should never be the end of the conversation, always the beginning. The Word, the Logos, wasn’t just a theological moment back then, but the on-going, progressive, incarnate work of Christmas in the here and now. This is the essence of the light and life that Jesus represented.
So, when Howard Thurman says the work of Christmas includes things like finding the lost and broken and restoring in them a sense of inclusion and wholeness, he’s really saying, be the light and life to others. When Thurman says the work of Christmas includes feeding the hungry, bringing release and liberation to those in bondage, the marginalized, the oppressed, by rebuilding nations and bringing peace among people, he’s really saying, be all that you’ve experienced from God by being light and life to others.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. I have a pond on my property. Now, I use the term “pond” loosely here because it’s really a low area where excess water collects. So, most of the time it’s stagnant, motionless. And yes, you can make the argument that there is life there, I mean, algae and mosquitos love it. And please don’t misunderstand me, I do value my little stagnant pond for what it is, but when I go to the Namekagon River it’s a whole different experience. The river is always moving, changing, evolving, and bringing forth life in new and wonderful ways.
Do you see what I’m driving at here? The life we’re call to as people of faith is dynamic, passionate; we’re called to be the church beyond ourselves. Live the river, always moving, changing, evolving, and bringing forth life in new and wonderful ways.
Let me put a bow on all of this by offering you a quote from William Faulkner. He once wrote, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed. If you will do this you will change the earth.” My friends, the work of Christmas has begun. Let us go forth and “change the earth” offering light and life to all, through acts of simple kindness, and by doing the hard work of restoring justice and propagating peace.
In the name of the Incarnate One, the Logos, the Word. Amen, and the people of God said, Amen!
[ii] Rob Bell What Is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything (Harper One, 2007) p.123
[iii] Ibid Bell p.116 He also stated, “The Bible is a library of books reflecting how human beings have understood the divine. People at that time believed the gods were with them when they went to war and killed everyone in the village. What you’re reading is someone’s perspective that reflects the time and the place they lived in. It’s not God’s perspective— it’s theirs. And when they say it’s God’s perspective, what they’re telling you is their perspective on God’s perspective. Don’t confuse the two.”