Pretty soon, the shepherds will go back to work. In a day or two, cousins and grandchildren will be headed home. The in-laws may stay for a day or two longer, and the scent of pine will certainly linger. There’s enough fruitcake to last until mid-January, and the lights on the house will remain on at least until New Year’s Day. Maybe even Valentine’s Day, depending on your neighborhood.
For the most part, however, after the gifts are opened, Christmas will start to fade.
Liturgically speaking, of course, Christmas continues until January 10, which is the Baptism of the Lord Sunday.
Dashing down the stairs on Christmas morning is just the beginning of the actual celebration recalling Jesus’ birth. It continues straight through Epiphany, when we recall the shining of Christ’s star in the sky, and the drawing of all people toward God’s revelation in Jesus.
That’s a hard sell, however, in a world that has been busy listening to Wham singing “Last Christmas” since November. But I suspect it is also a hard sell because we tend to forget that Christmas sets us on a new direction. Christmas is less about the gifts and the decorations than it is about searching and discovering God’s gift of hope.
We are impatient in that search. Our minds drift, and then we’re off searching for something else. For example, according to Google, the persons most people were interested in this past year were members of the Kardashian/Jenner family. Caitlyn Jenner was the second-most searched person, while the first was former NBA star Lamar Odom, who is Khloe Kardashian’s husband.
There’s more: We were also curious to learn how to do Kylie Jenner’s lip challenge, and were closely monitoring Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. Now, to be fair, it wasn’t just about the Kardashian clan. Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, Ronda Rousey and Josh Duggar were also among the most searched people.
I don’t find much comfort in Google’s data, though I’m sure it is accurate. We are, by and large, an impatient lot. Spending time in contemplation isn’t our shtick. Note the conspicuous absence of the names of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Pope Francis, refugees searching for shelter, or scientists researching climate change. Entranced by Kylie’s lips, we’re not interested in human trafficking, childhood hunger, racism or any number of other pressing dilemmas.
Here’s a thought: Perhaps we might consider ditching trendy searches in favor of contemplating hope.
We might take a cue from Mary, the mother of Jesus. After the birth of Jesus, she’s exhausted, of course. She remains speechless as the shepherds arrive at her makeshift delivery room. Still, she manages to listen to the story they tell.
Instead of being frightened or responding anxiously, she allows the impact of their witness to sink into her heart. As Luke reminds us, she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Even though Christmas was over, Mary kept thinking about all the things that had been told to her about her son. Joseph and Mary marveled at what they heard — and so should we.
We’re impatient about waiting for hope. We tend to forget that hope is a lot like labor and delivery — it is hard, messy and often painful work. We lose interest. Although we are an insatiably curious people, I do not think we spend enough time pondering.
Perhaps I should speak for only myself, but I know that in a world laced with 24-hour news, contemplation does not come easy. It is hard to contemplate when politicians are always turning up the volume, or the Internet is always streaming.
Screaming and streaming may be the best way to characterize much of our present age. It leaves little time for wonder and amazement, flattening mysteries into a steady diet of consumable, bite-sized sound clips. It is hard to ponder in a world filled with breaking news.
Yet the good news of hope has arrived, and unlike the cousins who will soon return home, God’s presence remains. That is surely worth contemplating.
Keating serves as pastor of the Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian Church in Wildwood. He is a contributor to STLtoday.com/religion.