I have written in my calendar today that we are “unhanging the greens.” Maybe it should be called dedecorating, mistleuntowing, pointlesssettia composting, decandleing the subvent wreathe – okay, maybe that’s pushing it? *snort* There aren’t any greeting cards for this process, no songs on the musak machines in the stores receiving returns, or ribbons and bows around the cubbies and closets where we place items for future regifting?!? I won’t tell if you don’t – and by the way I never do that… mostly. Maybe the leftover eggnog has begun to curdle, the boxes of candy have been picked over till the only pieces left are the vanilla-crème filled (am I the only one?!?), and the peanut brittle has gotten a little too sticky for the safety of the fillings you’ve had since you were 9. Post-holiday un-doing simply lacks a bit of the festive nature of the pre-weeks of excitement. I walked into Hallmark for a couple of cards last week, and the nice salesperson tried to get me to purchase a metal-headed Linus that when plugged in would sense movement upon which he would then recite the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke – he was over 50% off regular price. Guess he hadn’t been as popular as the marketing people thought he would be. I told the nice salesperson that I would do the same thing for free if anyone wanted me to – she looked at me a bit puzzled, so I began reciting the Christmas story from Luke for her, and she smiled and backed away. I don’t know, I seem to have that effect on people more often than I expect to. When I purchased my cards later, I told her I was a pastor and had preached on that story multiple times the previous Sunday, she sorta smiled and nodded. I invited her to church, she made no promises to come. I may need to change my approach.
Maybe that’s the idea, you know, of Christmas and New Year’s, maybe it’s about deciding whether or not we need to change our approach – to strangers, to neighbors, to friends, to family; to work, to money, to community; to faith, to church, to religion; to time, to perspective, to attitude? The list could go on, of course, and deciding anything in general terms is unlikely to bring any action, but maybe in the midst of all the generalities, the specifics will sift to the forefront if we choose to see them.
What happened during the holidays this year for you? So far I’ve heard the story of someone who had close family members not speaking with one another who found a way back together; another re-established a connection with parents; yet another experienced the gift (as opposed to experiencing resentment) that an “outsider” in terms of blood relation was able to bring to a family member walking their last chapter of life one earth; and so many who seemed to “lean into” a difficult sorrow felt particularly poignantly this time of year, and in feeling all the feelings, I believe healed in ways only the days ahead will completely show.
We humans often pack so much agenda and expectations into these few days of every year that are supposed to be filled with miracles on 34th Street, angels getting their wings when bells ring, and God’s blessing us every one in the ghosts that visit our dreams (have I hit any of your favorites?), that reality never quite lives up to what we hope. Maybe we do need to change our approach.
Reciting the gospel of Luke for free to a Hallmark associate did not elicit a desire to visit the church I serve – go figure – although it was a little entertaining for me… I know, I know, so not the point. Unhanging the greens and composting poinsettias and storing the Advent wreath for another year doesn’t have to be the un-doing of the spirit that inhabits a festive season that perhaps reminds us of the possibilities of good in this world full of imperfect humans. It simply has to do with our approach to our post-holiday life together.
Howard Thurman’s poem “When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled” is making the rounds on Facebook here and there, and I would offer it as well moving into the initial days of 2018.
When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”