When the work of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and the shepherds have found their way home,
the work of Christmas is begun…
from “I am the Light of the World” by Jim Strathdee
Quite a few years ago, my kids were given an “educational” gift at Christmas. When they opened up the flash cards masquerading as a game, they instantly felt the obligation the gift came with: to improve themselves. (The relative had never made secret her belief that video games were ruining their minds.)
“Obligation” and “gift” really shouldn’t come in the same package, should they? Yet isn’t this what the hymn above is suggesting? Was the birth of Jesus a gracious gift or not?
There was once a rundown old woman, who lived in a rundown house, surrounded by a rundown yard. One day her neighbour came with a present: a potted geranium. “This is a magic geranium,” the neighbour said. The old woman rolled her eyes but put the pot on her kitchen table nonetheless. A little while later she noticed how drab the table underneath the pot looked. “Just a little paint and that would look very pretty,” she thought.
A day or two later, the old woman saw how sad the rest of the kitchen looked compared to the freshly painted table and bright red flower. She scrubbed the cupboards and the floor until they gleamed and the whole room felt new. That fresh “new” kitchen cast its light on the condition of the rest of the house…which in turn spilled over into the yard…and finally even to herself. Out of the blue, it seemed, her whole life had been transformed. The flower had been magic after all!
Except, of course, it wasn’t the flower that brought about all that change. It was the woman’s response to that gift of beauty in her rundown life.
So too the gift of the Word made flesh. In the light of God loving us so deeply as to become one of us, the lives we lead, the world we once accepted as inevitable, just don’t measure up. The ugly contrast of injustice, poverty and hatred simply impels us to the work of building the kin-dom of God on earth.
It’s easy to live a rundown life in a rundown world. We all fall short of the glory of God, Paul says. But in Jesus, are now “justified by his grace as a gift (Romans 3:23-24).” That’s the real “work of Christmas,” to surrender to the beauty of God and let grace draw us into new lives of love, for ourselves, and for the world. May it be so.