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When the shepherds are back with their flocks

I don’t know about you, but I confess to having a love/loathe relationship with social media. Having said that, I am grateful that social media reintroduced me to The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman’s writings several years ago, specifically his poem “The Work of Christmas.” Now, every year, I can count on at least one or more friends on social media reposting this poem around Christmas time:

“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 flocks, the work of Christmas begins:
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. 


From the Book The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations (1985)

Growing up, Christmas was just a secular holiday for me, filled with family, food and gifts (some of them waiting under the tree for me on Christmas morning after magically appearing from a mysterious figure named Santa Claus). Yes, there was sort of a Christmas season filled with school concerts, shopping for gifts, going to see live nativity scenes or light displays, but all of that occurred leading up to the big day–Christmas. And then–just like that–Christmas was over.

When I became a Christ follower in my late teens, I learned more about the season of Christmas, celebrated for 12 days from Christmas Day until Epiphany, and the “holy days” became longer and more profound to me, with Advent, Christmas (12 days), and Epiphany all holding a special place to inform my theology and deepen my faith. But, in many ways, Christmas was still a season–a period of time marked on the calendar where I celebrated the birth of Jesus with my family, friends and my faith community with special food, decorations, songs, gift giving and acts of charity. Even then, however, the Christmas tree went up, the Christmas tree came down, and Christmas was done until next year.

It was after reading Rev. Dr. Thurman’s poem for the first time in my late 20’s that my idea of the meaning of Christmas grew more profound once again.

For Christians, Christmas is not just a day, or a season. 

Christmas is a call to action. 

Christmas reminds us that we were given the greatest gift on earth–the birth of our Savior. This is exciting, and we should celebrate the presence of Emmanuel–God with us. But this gift deserves much more than a spoken word of gratitude or a handwritten thank you card. This gift is not one that we admire for a few days and forget about until next December, or that we tuck away on a shelf for special occasions.  

No, this gift deserves a much more profound place in our lives, and our gratitude for this gift must become part of our everyday thoughts, words and deeds.

Christmas is a call to action.

Christmas is a call to action to be the embodiment of Matthew 25 in a broken and hurting world, and to do this work, not just as acts of charity for the Christmas season, but to do so with deep, Christ-like love and compassion 365 days a year. 

Rev. Dr. Thurman gives us a few suggestions on how to do the work of Christmas, but let me share a few more concrete examples related to people on the move or seeking refuge:

In the United States
In Canada

Photo by Randall Greene on Unsplash

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