What could possibly be better than “the most wonderful time of the year”?
This is an important pastoral and theological question as the twelve days of Christmas wind down and the bills begin to roll in, as we pack up the decorations and start longing for springtime. Immediately following the winter holidays, many folks begin to experience a growing sense of let-down. For those who live in cooler climates, the short, dark, gray days of winter can chill both body and spirit. Well-beloved pastors, who have labored long and hard leading congregations through Advent and Christmas Eve, take a vacation on the Sunday after Christmas to give their weary minds, bodies, and spirits a break. For many clergy there is a collective sense of relief that it is all over until next year.
Meanwhile, imaginative children, non-liturgical types, and Christmas lovers everywhere wonder why Christmas can’t last longer, at least through winter if not all year. Why not festive lights and glowing, glittering decorations throughout the coldest, darkest months? Why not celebrate the hope, peace, joy, and love of Advent wreath ceremonies through all seasons? Why not study and fill the desires of loved ones and strangers through gifts, generous hospitality, and acts of kindness whenever the spirit moves? Why not “worship Christ the newborn King” beyond Christmas Eve into his and into our toddler, childhood, adolescent, teenage, twenty-something, and beyond phases?
A fervent desire for even more celebration resonates beautifully with our Wesleyan heritage. What could be better than Christmas? The historic, Christian faith will quickly hand us some clues.
Indeed, if we will refrain from putting them completely aside following December 25th, two famous Charles Wesley hymns, one of Advent and another from Christmas, will point us to that which is even greater than Christmas. The lyrics of these songs, so expressive of a vital Wesleyan Christian faith, help us to steer clear of post-holiday blues or despair and to move instead into a more full-blown celebration of God’s amazing intervention in our earthly lives.
In “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” Charles Wesley reminds us that Christmas marks the birth, but just the birth of the long-expected Savior of the world. This unique, most remarkable occasion signifies not only the earthly incarnation of God in Christ. This event launches into the world and into the faithful the new life that sets people free from fear and sin. With Christmas, God has opened a door so that we may step into a new reality in Jesus Christ and thereafter everything is different, including the short, dark days that remain of winter.
Now, sings Wesley, upon the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem we can find our rest in Christ, the earth can discover its hope; every nation can fulfill its deepest desires and every longing heart experience joy! Now, because of Christmas God’s people are delivered, God lives and reigns with and within us forever and God’s kingdom of grace is already dawning on the earth.
Further, in “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” Wesley invites all nations to rise into the joy and triumph of the angels’ song of “glory to the new-born King.” Here born into in the humble flesh of humanity is the God-head; here it has pleased the Deity to dwell with us in Jesus! Jesus, who is bringing light and life to all, brings with him the gifts of healing, the new birth, and everlasting life.
If Brother Charles is right, there is no room for post-Christmas gloom and no good reason to stop celebrating after December 25th. In fact, our work, joy, and celebration of the dawning of God’s kingdom are cut out for us today and in the days and months ahead! If we truly believe, the question becomes, what are we going to do with what’s even better than Christmas? If we truly believe, at Christmas the joy and the fun have only begun.
What’s better than Christmas is the rich continuum of God not only bursting into the world enfleshed as an adorable, vulnerable newborn baby but still living among us through all the days, nights, and seasons of life, culminating in life beyond life as we know it, well beyond these earthly years.
What’s better than Christmas is the outrageous fact that the newborn King, the Son of God, is born within the likes of us not only at Christmas, but each and every day we remain open to God’s Spirit of hope, peace, love, and joy. Within us, God’s grace is already at work growing us into the people we are meant by God to be. If the miracle of Jesus born in Bethlehem is great, how great is the miracle of Jesus born in the hearts and lives of people like you and me?
What’s better even than Christmas is that we get this miracle, this growing presence of the Christ-child, Christ-human to give and to share as a gift with others. Best of all, we get to participate in God’s great good news, peace and good will toward all. What’s better than Christmas is that Christmas, wonderful as it is, marks only the beginning of God’s amazing, saving work in the world.