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 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 the people, to make music in the heart.
~ the Rev. Howard Thurman
In the mythic storytelling that many of our congregations do in our services on Christmas Eve, we include the part about the magi travelling across the land, following a star. What’s glossed over in our worship celebrations is that in the original scripture, it doesn’t happen the same night that Mary gives birth. The magi arrive twelve days later, giving us the twelve days of Christmas and the celebration of Epiphany in early January. For those of us who also use the orthodox calendar, the entire holiday of Christmas and Epiphany is happening right now in the month of January.
It is during this time that the major players of our story, the characters from whom we glean our lessons, are in states of liminality; both in the stable and on the roads. Mary is still recovering from giving birth, and learning her new role as mother. Jesus is getting a crash course in what it means to be out of the womb, where there’s things like hunger and cold. Joseph is figuring out his place in this family that has grown from two to three. The magi put their faith in their learning, risking days of travel entirely on the appearance of a star in the sky. They encounter Herod, and are wary enough of his abuse of institutional power and privilege to return home “by another road.” They are changed by this experience as much as the holy family in Bethlehem.
What, then, does this time of year offer us as Unitarian Universalists? I would offer up January as a time for us to experience the stable and the roads. In the stable, we can contemplate ourselves, our roles in our families and communities, our fears and anxieties. On the roads, we can turn ourselves outward, to take stock of where our reason and values intersect with the work of justice. We can reach out to those for whom the holiday season is anything but joyous — be it for grief or injustice or any reason — and let them know that they are supported.
In gratitude and faith,