And so itís back to business as usual, isnít it? With the New Year in full swing and all those decorations put away until next December, the day-to-day grind of life is back in full force. After all, these days it can be hard sometimes to remember that Christmas Day, far from being the end of faith, is actually all about the beginning of it. With all the build-up and fanfare that goes into getting ready to celebrate Christmas, itís easy once that day arrives to end up thinking with the birth of Jesus the celebration has come to an end and that itís time to simply pack up all the decorations until next year.
In his Christmas Oratorio, W.H. Auden captures nicely the way life can have an almost deflated quality to it after Christmas with the following excerpted words:
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes Ė
Some have got broken Ö
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Leftovers to do, warmedĖup, for the rest of the week Ė
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, and attempted, quite unsuccessfully,
To love all our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away Ö
The Christmas feast is already a fading memory Ö
In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn Ö
Well we get it, donít we? We read Audenís words and itís hard not to nod our heads in knowing agreement. For with the end of Christmas, itís hard for life not to go back to being, well, life.
But that said, there is an old church tradition about the three wise men that I have always loved and which, I think, helps remind us it doesnít always have to be that way. With the end of Christmas, in other words, life doesnít always have to slide back to being just another day and another year.
You see, after paying Jesus homage with their gifts and returning to their respective kingdoms, legend has it the wise men reportedly gave up their thrones in order to preach the good news of the Prince of Peace. Yep, rather than simply go back to their same old lives, the wise men, according to the story, actually began brand new ones! In joyful response and thanksgiving for Godís radical entrance into the world, the wise men returned to their homes refusing to allow things to ever be the same or to go back to the way theyíd always been. They had simply seen and been through too much not to be transformed and made into new people. And toward the end of their lives, itís even claimed that the apostle Thomas actually ran across the three men in India where he promptly proceeded to baptize and ordained them as priests, which shortly after led to the persecution and martyrdom of all three.
So for the wise men, Christmas, far from concluding or stopping with the birth of Jesus, was just the opposite. For them, it was the beginning of faith instead of its end. With joy and wonder, they returned to their homes after paying Jesus homage with a new take on the world and their lives transformed. Filled with the vision of a better world promised in Jesus Christ and refusing to let it die the wise men returned to their homes to live that vision out and share it with the world around them. Rather than simply go back to their old lives and their old ways of being in the world, the wise men began to live new ones.
And so it should be for you and for me. Yes, Christmas is over and the New Year is now in full swing. And if we havenít taken down that Christmas tree already, as well as all those other decorations, well we surely will be soon enough. But let us do those things not because Christmas is over and itís time to get back to life as weíve always known it. Instead, let us put away the decorations and the nativity scenes and the wreaths and the lights and the garland because they need a place for safe storage as we begin our own journeys of change and renewal.
The Rev. Stephen Yates is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Destin.