Text: Matthew 2:13-23
It’s the day after and for the most part Christmas is over. At least that is the message of our culture. All the presents have been unwrapped. Within the next week store shelves will be filled with Valentine candy and cards. The leftovers from Christmas brunch, lunch and/or dinner stare us in the face every time we open the refrigerator door. If you are like me, on this day after, your clothes are a bit more snug from eating too many cookies, slices of cake, and pieces of fudge. Maybe by now you have had some time, if only briefly, to reflect on Christmas day. The gift you gave that held special meaning. The gift you received that was unexpected. The conversation with a family member that surprised you. The unusual feeling you got when a particular word was spoken or gesture made. On this day after Christmas Day maybe you are wondering about just how it all went. Did you meet the expectations of those you love and care for? Did you do too much? Not enough? Did I honor the true meaning of the day?
It is not uncommon after big and important events for our emotions to run the full gamut of feelings. The excitement and anticipation give way to tiredness, even exhaustion. What seemed like a good idea at the time can, on second thought, leave you feeling unsure or uncomfortable. Significant events, especially holidays, can bring such a mixture of emotions such as relief, sadness, contentment, disappointment, and happiness that we feel like we are riding an emotional rollercoaster.
When I read our lectionary text for this Sunday I couldn’t help but think about how Mary and Joseph must have felt on “the day after.” Even under their stressful circumstances—being pregnant teenagers, illegal immigrants, and homeless—they must have felt the excitement and joy at the birth of their firstborn. Like any loving parents, their hearts must have leapt with pride as they held their baby in their arms for the very first time. Surely, their hearts filled with hope as they dreamed of who he would become. Who would doubt the love they must have felt that night when, for the first time, they looked into the eyes of their newborn.
But even in the midst of such pride and hope and love, it couldn’t have taken long for their excitement and joy and hope to turn into tiredness, worry, and second-guessing. Especially, when they heard of the news that a bounty had been placed on their baby. For the Holy family, there was no time to rest in the moment or to linger in that place of relief and contentment that can come with the birth of a healthy baby. No, for Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, “the day after” was not the end but rather the beginning of their journey. For them, Christmas was not over on the day after. It was just beginning.
With little time to adjust to their new lives and hardly any time to receive, much less enjoy, the gifts from their friends celebrating the birth of their baby, Joseph is told in a dream to take Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt. Now, on the run, these two young parents are forced to figure out how to protect and care for their child when, literally, the powers of the world—the forces of injustice—are against them.
It is perhaps worth pausing to define “Christmas.” In the narrowest sense, Christmas represents the incarnation – the physical manifestation of God in the form of actual birth of the infant Jesus. In its broader sense, Christmas represents God’s partnership with humanity. Jesus didn’t appear on a doorstep, fall from the sky or land in a chariot – Jesus was born to two ordinary people. We read in the Gospels that both Mary and Joseph have experiences of divine revelation regarding Jesus, but as far as we know, these are brief and impart only the most basic information – you’re having a special kid, it’s going to be alright, bad guys are after you, get out of Dodge. Meanwhile, the day-to-day story within this story is that these two teenage parents are tasked with nurturing and raising the chosen one. They have no special training, no guidebook, no hotline – they are left to wing it, with arguably the most important baby on the planet. To walk away from the story at the manger is to do serious injustice to the roles that regular people played in the very survival, not to mention emotional and spiritual formation of Jesus. To walk away from the story at the manger is to also do serious injustice to the roles that regular people still play in the survival of the Christmas message: God with us in the flesh. Rather than a tidy ending, when all the gifts are given and all the decorations put away for another year, the day after represents for Mary and Joseph and for us the partnership that God has with humanity. For sure, there was and is danger and exile. But there is also promise—the promise of hope, peace, joy, and love; the promise of justice for all people; the promise of light—light that the darkness does not overcome.
So what does it mean for us to say that Christmas really begins on the day after Jesus’ birth? It means that as people of faith we are called to partner with God and each other to bring about God’s justice in our world—to work for peace, to dream of hope, to nurture joy and to spread love. It means that we are God’s hands and feet and voice in this world—that we, too, are God’s incarnation. God came and God still comes and dwells among us in the flesh—in you and me; in the stranger and in the friend; in the one who works in the fields picking cucumbers and in the one who sits in the Oval Office. God came and God still comes in ordinary people—fallible, flawed, but faithful ordinary people. God came and still comes into our world through teenagers who dare to say “yes” to birthing justice; through vulnerable babies and children who hold before us the light of hope and love; and through wise old people who dare to put aside all that is conventional and follow the stars.
For those of us who call ourselves people of faith in the Christian tradition, on this “the day after,” Christmas has just begun. God with us is calling us—ordinary, fallible, and flawed people—into full partnership with God to bring about justice for all people. Christmas is not over. It has just begun!