2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
As you view this, it is December 27th. Liturgically, in many Christian denominations we are three days into Christmastide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas. Tradition tells us that Christmas is the first day of Christmas, although here in America we treat it as the last.
In America, most of us have forgotten the Twelve days of Christmas. Oh, we sing that wonderful accumulative song about partridges and dancing ladies, but that ignites but a distant memory in our cultural consciousness. Santa Claus and New Year’s parties have defined separations in day, differentiating meanings and contexts from older traditions. Certainly, our commercial culture ends the season on Christmas Day, and for that I am indeed grateful. Personally, I don’t need another twelve days of Christmas shopping experience.
In traditional Christianity, Christmastide ends on January 5. During this twelve-day period there is the Feast of Stephen on Day two, also known as Boxer Day in some countries, and Wren Day in Ireland. The song Good King Wenceslaus describes that day. Within some denominations on the 27th is the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist; on the 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents; on the 29th is the Memorial of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr. On December 30th is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The feast of Pope Saint Sylvester is on December 31. What we celebrate as New Year’s Eve is celebrated by some as Saint Sylvester Night.
January 1 is known by some denominations as Octave Day, or as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, because according to Jewish tradition Jesus would have been circumcised on the eighth day after His Birth. On January 2 are the feasts of St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. The Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus on 3 January. Other Saints are celebrated on various days depending upon the local traditions.
Christmastide ends on January 5th and Epiphany is celebrated on January 6. Some Christian traditions hold that this is the birthday of Jesus, others the day of his baptism. Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. It is also called Three Kings Day.
I lay out this history just so we can understand a little more that the traditions surrounding Christmas and the birth of Jesus are complicated, ancient, and differ from many of our own traditions. But they are no less meaningful to those who follow them.
And all of our traditions point us to the newness that Christ brings. Howard Washington Thurman was an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. He was a prominent religious figure in the twentieth century, and played a significant part in many social justice movements and organizations. Thurman's theology of radical nonviolence influenced, inspired, and molded a generation of civil rights activists. He was a key mentor to leaders within the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. From Thurman’s book “The Mood of Christmas and other Celebrations,” published in 1973, comes this beautiful poem, entitled “The Work of Christmas”.
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 flock,
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 others,
To make music in the heart.
Have we embraced the newness that Christ offers? We are on the threshold of a new year, 2021. For many of us, it cannot come soon enough. We are ready for the changes.
We are taught in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The secret to our success in any area is hidden in our daily routine. Tweak what we do daily, and over a short period of time we get very different results. Change how we think about someone or something, and we change what Life reflects back to us. When we stop conforming to the patterns taught by the world – the short sightedness, prejudices, self-centeredness, indifference, and division - we open opportunities to transform our selves, lives, attitudes, and perspectives.
Next week is burning bowl Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. It is a spiritual celebration and ritual in which we release the things that we don't want or need any longer. With the rebirth of the Christ spirit within us, we take a fresh new look at our lives. We begin again. Of course, we have choices: we can continue along the path we have been pursuing, or we can change direction.
Between now and next week, I would like us to make a 2020 review of our life. Do we have baggage, whether emotional, physical or mental, that we would like to be rid of? Do we have skills that we'd like to develop, talents we'd like to bolster? Do we have counterproductive behaviors that we'd like to give up, and replace with more constructive behaviors? What are our strengths? What are we good at? What have we done this year that has given us pleasure? How have we been in service to our family, friends, our church, our community or other people? What new things have we learned, and are they worthy of our attention and application?
Let us review our 2020 as objectively as possible. The goal is to look at our life non-judgmentally, as much from a God-perspective as possible. Let’s see our self as a divine, spiritual being, and know that we are in the process of becoming a better human being. We can consider what endings to bring to completion so that we can start our new beginnings.
Philosopher and spiritual teacher, Ken Wilbur, suggests that the evolution of all phenomena occurs through “transcending and including”: things don’t totally change and become something new; the old is not wiped out. Rather, transformation occurs through including ‘what was’ into a more complex matrix. Over thousands of years of human evolution, rational thought has not eliminated emotion, but has included it into a greater developmental level of consciousness. At our best, as a species we are intelligent and compassionate, thinking and feeling organisms capable of dynamic, creative, and complex interaction and problem solving.
New beginnings are born out of former endings and previous attempts. We try to teach our children this lesson: put things away before you pull out new toys to play with. We don’t throw away a toy before we play with another; no. We include it in our assortment of possible toys; it is a valuable component within our growing compilation of joy. We must do the same in our own lives: put away the old before embracing the new, while allowing it to be a part of who we are.
Our challenge in this process is releasing what is broken and cannot be repaired or is no longer necessary. Sometimes we can't see what is unnecessary in our own lives but see it clearly in other people's lives. Often, we know exactly what needs to be released, but we cling to it anyway, secure in our habits and its familiarity.
Although we use December 25th as the birthday of Jesus, and use Christmas as the time to fill with giving, love, hope, peace and life, we can celebrate Christmas on a daily basis. We can always be loving and giving, and filled with peace and joy. Christ can be reborn within us every day.
The same is true with beginnings, because Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. Although we take the ending of a calendar year to symbolically represent the time to begin again - out with the old, in with the new - we also know that daily we have the capability to begin again. Daily, we can release our old unproductive ways and initiate the new. We can transcend what we were while including all the good, beneficial, and honorable of us and letting go of the ineffective, hurtful, and useless.
Therapist Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.”
That is what the Christ brings to us… a chance to start again, to move forward under new guidance. The Christ offers us a new path and new choices. Our old habits and thought patterns, other people’s opinions and expectations have no power over us except that which we allow. We alone determine our actions, beliefs, and thoughts. We can change; we can make another choice.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
So, let us take a good long look at ourselves this week: examining our life as we celebrate the New Year, the new moment, the new ‘now’. As Meister Eckhart wrote, “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”
So, it is my prayer that we will choose to begin again, releasing what is no longer working to best advantage and trying something new. There is no shame in wanting to be a better person and making the active attempt. We are all in the process together, sharing experiences, growing together. I pray that as a church family we will support each other in our attempts to change, evolve, and transcend, seeing with perfect vision the plans that God has for us. Let us recognize and appreciate Christ in ourselves and each other. I wish you a joyous, abundant, health-filled, peaceful and loving Happy New Year.