The Work of Christmas

I've been wanting to share this since the end of the Christmas Season, but let's just say that so many things got in the way... 

"The Work of Christmas", a poem or a litany, as called by Jim Manney in his dotMagis post, was written by Howard Thurman, an African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.  

"The Work of Christmas", I think, invites one to self-examination and meaningful commitment, both rarely sought in a modern post-holiday scenario.

When the song of 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

- Howard Thurman

After we have packed the Christmas tree and ornaments, chastised ourselves for eating too much, promised seldom-seen relatives that we would get in touch often, after the carols and the moments near the family's Nativity scene, what do we do? 

We "settle in".

Does settling in mean half-heartedly getting back to work or school or one's daily business, the way one does after a weekend at the beach? Does it mean continuing with our work plans and schedules like Christmas was just a block of dates that we had just crossed off our planners? 

How did our Blessed Mother and good and kind Saint Joseph settle in with the Baby Jesus after Christmas? They probably slid to their roles as parents while on the move. After all, they had to hurry to Egypt to keep the Infant away from the clutches of an earthly king. There they stayed until they were prompted by an angel that it was safe to return. 

Mary and Joseph were not from Egypt. Did they have relatives and friends there? Maybe they did not. So they started and raised a family by their lonesome and in a foreign land. It was not a charmed life (neither would it be when they moved to Nazareth). Were they ever anxious that they would not be good enough to parent the God made Man while He was under their care? Maybe. Probably. But faith made them plod on happily and full of faith in the Father who placed them were they were and never forgot them. 

Thirty years (although Saint Joseph died earlier, blessed by the holy company of Jesus and Mary at his deathbed) they lived together as a family. We do not know exactly what transpired in those thirty years, but I surmise -- as many may have, I guess -- that whatever events took place, they were all in preparation for the ministry of Jesus and His eventual passion, death, and resurrection. And all these were for our salvation. 

After the overwhelming joy of that most blessed Night, it was clear to the Holy Family that they had a mission. They had work to do.

And so do we. A mission that will lead us to that Most Blessed Place prepared for us. We cannot go There by ourselves, though. We have to bring others with us. Abraham did not venture to the Promised Land by himself. He brought along a people.

Image courtesy of africa /
We have to try to bring along our family; let us never forget that. But we also have to bring along other people that the Lord may directly or indirectly entrust to us given the circumstances of our life and our discernment of how He wants us to live it. We have to bring along our neighbor. Sometimes our neighbors can fend for themselves. But sometimes they can't. Those who can't, Thurman calls the lost, the broken, the hungry, and the prisoner. The lonely people of the world.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said that. "When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed."

Then, too, she also reminds us that "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat."

Image courtesy of africa /
Honestly, this work of Christmas is scaring me. It's very scary and undoubtedly inconvenient. I'd rather be wrapping presents and baking cookies. But presents and cookies can't make peace. They can't make music. Definitely not music in the heart. 

Only love can. Only love. 

Virgin most merciful, pray for us. 


  1. Wow, thanks for the reflection, and especially thanks for the quotes from Mother Teresa. We need to be continually reminded of what it means to be followers of Christ.

    I love that. What a great and perfect reminder to be like Him and the many Saints before us.
    God bless Mother Teresa and Mr. Thurman too.


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