I wrote this piece two years ago for my church newsletter. As I read it again, I found that it still says what I want to say about the season of Christmas. I hope that you'll take some time to linger in this place of rejoicing with me, starting on Wednesday.
Speaking of Wednesday, I will not be posting a regular blog that day, so I'll go ahead and wish all of you a Merry Christmas now. See you on Friday.
My discovery of the liturgical calendar began in earnest about halfway through Advent about two years ago. I have been a part of many different churches and picked up pieces of the church calendar, but I’d never had it explained to me before. My explanation came in the form of a book given to me by a dear friend: Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross. The first full season that I celebrated was Christmas.
I grew up with the story of Jesus becoming incarnate, coming to earth and being born in humble circumstances. It is perhaps because I knew the story so well and had heard it so many times that I was so struck by wonder as I saw it differently. For me, and likely for many of you, Christmas has always been one day. We prepare throughout Advent for this much anticipated event. Jesus is born and our waiting is over. My family sets out our nativity scene right after Thanksgiving, leaving out only the figure of baby Jesus until Christmas morning. Before we do anything else, we find Him (my mother hides Him somewhere in the house) and place Him in the manger, singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ When the day is over, however, we start thinking about putting things back to normal, about the relief that comes in being done with something, even something wonderful.
In my initial reading of Living the Christian Year, I began to understand something that I’d always found strange growing up. We had family friends who had parties every year in the days following Christmas. They kept up their tree, they had big dinners and time to sing carols and games. Every year, I marveled at the restraint of their children who opened only one gift a day until twelve days had elapsed. What I did not understand then is that they were trying to hold on to the wonder of Christmas, not just one day that leaves as quickly as it comes, but a season, a time to reflect on the life-altering fact that the Word became flesh and lived among us. The season of Christmas, the twelve days until Epiphany, are there for us to spread out, to say “at last” to revel and sing out thanksgiving.
Once I discovered the seasonhood of Christmas, many other things began to make sense. This was why the twelve days of Christmas were placed in a song, this was why there is a play called Twelfth Night which takes place on the eve of Epiphany. Christmas didn’t always end the day after it began. In all the stress and hustle and preparation, I had forgotten to take time to remember that Jesus came, that what we had been waiting for was here. The waiting of Advent gives way to the wonder of Christmas.
So, this Christmas I challenge you to celebrate a season, even when everyone else is taking down their decorations and getting ready for New Year’s resolutions. Go back to the Gospels and tarry over the accounts of Jesus’ birth, spend peaceful time with friends and family, allow yourself to linger in wonder. At last our God is here, with us.