Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3
“The Work of Christmas,” by Howard Thurman
“The Work of Saving the Earth,” by Carolyn Rapp
Howard Thurman gives us “The Work of Christmas,” and a woman attending a writing workshop in Virginia, wanting to honor Thurman’s thoughts, gives us “The Work of Saving the Earth.”
I suppose we could write all sorts of similar reflections: The Work of Making Peace, the Work of Welcoming the Stranger, the Work of Dismantling Racism, the Work of Loving Our Neighbor, the Work of Building a Church. It might be a fun, even inspiring exercise. Actually, this is one of those things you can try at home. Go ahead! Sit down with a pen or pencil and paper, or at your computer and, instead of writing your New Year’s resolutions, write out what it means to do what you care about: The Work of Loving My Family, the Work of Forgiveness, the Work of Being a Good Parent or Partner or Friend.
I like all of it, with one exception. Maybe it’s because I happen to be very tired, but as much as I love Thurman’s original poem and the idea of countless knock-offs, I have to admit I’m a bit put off by the “work” element of it all.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a big believer in living with intention. I’m pretty sure that God does most of her saving work in the world through people like us. And I know the Protestant or Puritan work ethic runs deep in us—reflected in, among other things, entirely a-religious traditions like making New Year’s resolutions.
But it is still Christmas, after all. We are still in the season of rejoicing. We are still in the season of good news of great joy for all the people. Once again, we have waited and watched for and been blessed with the hope of salvation—wholeness and peace and justice for all.
There is plenty of time for God’s work to be done. And when we do it, we’d best remember that work and joy are meant to go together. Indeed, the classic catechisms of our faith begin by asking what is humanity’s highest purpose. The answer? To glorify God and to enjoy God forever.
Simeon and Anna had been been watching and waiting for a lifetime for a sign of hope, the promise of their salvation. And they saw it in a baby boy whose parents, too poor to bring a lamb for sacrifice, offered a pair birds instead. And they rejoiced and praised God for revealing to them the hope and salvation of the people, for answering their prayers and fulfilling their longings.
So in the waning hours of what has been, for many of us, and for many in our country and around the world, a trying and discouraging year, perhaps we would do well to consider the signs of hope in our midst. As we approach the day and season of Epiphany, we could do much worse than to rejoice and praise God for glimmers of light in the darkness.
Where do you see the light? What gives you hope? What long-awaited event has come to pass in your life or in our world? What wonderful and totally unexpected thing has happened? Where do you see God’s Love made manifest? What projects and endeavors inspire and encourage you?
I encourage you to reflect on these questions in the coming days. I invite you to begin the brand new year by enjoying all the gifts and blessings you’ve been given and praising God for them.
In a few minutes, we’re going to sing the old spiritual “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” As Mary Luti shared on Facebook last week, the song originated among African American slaves and was made popular by the Jubilee Singers of the African American Fisk School in Nashville.
Reflecting on the origins of the song and how writer James Baldwin used the title for his first book, Mary said:
“It struck me that “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is no tinsel-thin holiday song, but the strong and resilient song of a people for whom good news has always been in short supply. The song of a people who endured unspeakable inhumanity as enslaved human beings, but still found the courage to endure even more as they stood up to act, and to demand that others act to recognize and respect their humanity—the same humanity that God was irrevocably committed to in the newborn flesh of Jesus. The song of a people who understood, in Baldwin’s words, that “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.”
“It’s not for nothing that in the 1960’s civil rights movement, “Go Tell It” was sung with the words, “Let my people go” substituting for “…that Jesus Christ is born.”
“Whenever you sing this wonderful spiritual,” Mary says, “pray that it will be a thick, strong song for you… And pray that when we go and tell the good news of Christmas on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, we will by that act commit ourselves courageously to the redeeming danger of the gospel as well as to its resounding joy.”
So let us see the signs of hope and salvation in our midst, even as we grieve and rage at grave injustice all around. Let us not be so busy about the work of Christmas and life that we fail to rejoice. Let us fully see and hear the good news, and let us tell it on the mountain and in the valleys and everywhere we go.