Well, a new year has begun, and Christmas is over. Or is it?
When does the Christmas season begin? Is it when the radio stations begin playing Christmas music? Is it when Christmas movie marathons begin on TV? Is it when stores put lights and candy canes on the shelves? That usually happens right after Halloween. So does Christmas begin on November 1st? Is Thanksgiving just a subtle interruption, unable to assert its holiday independence? Or perhaps these commercial entities are deceived and the Christmas season begins after Thanksgiving. Perhaps this holy holiday season begins with a day of consumeristic excess, aptly named "Black Friday."
For that matter, when does it end? Does it end the day after Christmas? Or does it end when the new year begins? When is it appropriate to take down the tree, the Nativity, the lights?
Perhaps you, like me, have discovered through the years that there are many who have very strong feelings about the answers to these questions. In our culture, there are an abundance of opinions on this matter.
But Christmas is a sacred holiday. It makes sense, then, to consider what the Church has to say about this holiday season. In the history of the Christian Church, there have been different opinions and ways of celebrating, but common among them all is this: Christmas day is preceded by the Advent season and followed by the Christmas season. This means that, if you have picked this newsletter up early, it may still be Christmas!
The Advent Season begins four Sundays prior to Christmas. It is a season of expectation and preparation for the arrival (the "advent") of our Divine Royal Liberator.
The Christmas season begins on Christmas day and continues for (at least) 12 days. This is often called the twelve days of Christmas which, ironically, we cease to sing about precisely when they begin.
Why does this matter? With the celebration of New Year's Eve, we are swiftly catapulted into the new year. Our reminders of Emmanuel (God with us) are returned to the attic, and we rush back into the diversions of life. If Advent is a time of expectation awaiting the good news of Christmas morning, then the days following Christmas offer us an opportunity to reflect on what that good news means for us as we step into a new year.
The good news of Christmas is that the King of Kings has arrived. God himself, Emmanuel, has chosen to live among those whom he created. The world has a new King who is greater than Pharaoh, Herod, Caesar, or the rulers of ages to come. His kingdom is without boundaries, and it will never end. "A new King is here! God is with us!" That is the proclamation of Christmas day; therefore, the days that follow are significant. Now we must decide what this means for us.
The shepherds, the carpenter, the mother, the wise men, and even the paranoid king, did not shelve their story for another day, rush back into their routines, and resolve to exercise more frequently for a month or two. They were changed on Christmas day. They knew they would never be the same.
So let's not charge back into the new year just yet. Let's not make frivolous resolutions of little consequence. Rather, let’s contemplate the good news of Christmas a little longer. Let's linger on the mystery of Emmanuel, and consider this, "The King has come! What must change?"
May your year be shaped by the wonder of Christmas morning,