Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Work of Christmas ....

Millions of us across Christendom will gather tonight to sing "Silent Night" while passing candlelight from hand to hand, envisioning a nativity setting of stable and straw, lowing cattle, sleeping infants, gathered shepherds and angels' song. That certainly will be the case at St. Andrew's.

We like our Christmas songs to be joyful, triumphant --- or sweet.

Howard Thurman (1899-1981), pastor, educator, civil rights leader and occasional mystic, left behind two brief poems, that carry the impetus of the incarnation forward, beyond the transitory season of peace and good will. The first generally is called just "I will light candles this Christmas."

I will light Candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.

A grandson of slaves who was ordained a baptist preacher in segregated America, Thurman went on to broaden his theological --- and social --- horizons considerably, studying with Quaker mystic Rufus Jones, even Gandhi, among others. His became an integrated, intercultural, interdenominational faith of non-violence that incorporated a call to action. He became a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders.

His second brief poem, "The Work of Christmas," embodies the impetus to act that the incarnation imposes --- if we take the incarnation seriously.

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 flock,
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 others,
To make music in the heart.

Here's a choral setting for the poem, composed by Dan Forrest.

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