For those who are not quite ready to move beyond the miracle of Emmanuel …
Just like that, the Twelve Days-Nights of Christmas come to an end.
What, then, comes next – after the celebrating, reflecting, and remembering?
Perhaps we ought to live a Twelve-Days-of-Christmas life, in which we over and over contemplate the miracle of newness, the challenge of change, the trials of repetition, the joys of duplication, the power of obedience, the call to maturity, the charge to live joyous lives of hope.
Go back and contemplate the First Night through the Eleventh Night. Find the words that soothe you, push you, chafe you – and read them, think them, digest them. There is something we can all learn from days one through eleven.
And on this day – this twelfth and final day – let’s look ahead at a road that goes ever on and on, headed towards what we sometimes know but other times can’t see, towards what we sometimes anticipate but other times dread.
For a Christ-follower (those who choose the way in which the grown-crucified-resurrected babe’s footsteps lead), that particular road leads to deep, full, grown life — a life that is immersed in hope even when it drips with pain; a life that is infused with Love even when it is bloated with self; a life that is incarnated by the spiritual even when it is tied to the natural; a life that moves ever on and on — assuming we pick up our feet, set our faces forward, and walk.
Will I? Will you? Will we?
The world needs people who will trod that road daily, faithfully, humbly, joyfully, intentionally, boldly, quietly, long after the Twelfth Day-Night of Christmas.
Tomorrow is the First Day of the After-Twelfth-Day of Christmas. May we meet walking together on the road that Emmanuel has paved for us.
Amen and amen.
‘Tis Christmas night eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1).
For the first time in the twelve-day Christmas numerical celebration, we face repetition.
One (1). And another one (1). [Though one (1) of the ones (1)s is really a ten (10)…]
But we have already had a one. And a ten (which includes a numerical (1) one).
**Corporate communal confession: we love newness, updates, next-best-things. We do not love the same-old-same-old. And what is “11” – (one-another-one) – but a visual reminder of same-of-same-old-repetitive-not-newness? 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11.
Can we shift (seismically) from a “same-old-same-old-monotonous” mindset to a “known-beloved-tradition” mindset: from a “something-bigger-better” palate to a “remember-repeat-savor” palate?
Can we settle into a place of wonderment and joy about the day-in-day-out repeated elements of meaningful life?
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1) reminds me that duplication in daily life isn’t something to be avoided at all costs.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1) challenges me that in the end, duplication is what God’s children are called to: that is, sharing the good news of Christmas (and its fuller narrative) with others so that they too may become a person who loves and follows Christ.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1). Daily beautiful repetitive earthly life.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1). Daily beautiful duplicating eternal life.
‘Tis the tenth night of Christmas. Ten. One-zero. A full and finished number. Completeness. Double digits.
In the universe of old math:
- For arithmetic, we start to carry numbers when we enter the world of double digits.
- For subtraction, we start to borrow numbers when we enter the world of double digits.
- For multiplication, we start to carry and cross and shift numbers when we enter the world of double digits.
But for life, what happens when we hit double digits? When our tasks, schedules, and responsibilities move beyond simple and straightforward single-digit-ness? When our wisdom, understanding, and discernment must follow suit with growth, depth, and expansion?
Do we panic? Do we forget how the numerical functions work? Do we freeze, tangle, lose our way? Do we carry when we should borrow, borrow when we should carry, cross in the wrong order, shift in the wrong direction?
As numbers grow in size, the options expand. So it is with us. We move beyond the simplicity of Ninth Night living – of wake, rise, eat, feed, bathe, eat, work, rest, feed, eat, sleep, repeat.
We are now grown. We are now double-digit-ed. And so our interactions, communications, relations, formulations, and adorations must move to the next frontier of mathematical faith functions.
We must begin to embrace complexity with care, joy, and anticipation. We must grow up. We must grow out. We must grow down.
It is the tenth night of Christmas, giving us a peek of a double-digit life. View it not as a chore or weight or inevitability. Rather, view it as the culmination of a Christmas well begun, for the double-tens of St. John’s Gospel remind us that Emmanuel came to give life in abundance. Our job is to embrace it and live it.
(John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I am come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. RSV)
What happens now? When the celebrations are over, the parties are past, and the excitement has settled into everyday-everynight life?
The baby’s been born. The angel’s have proclaimed. The shepherd’s have visited. The baby’s been marked as a chosen child of God. The child’s been named.
Seemingly the momentous and miraculous elements are done and past. Now it is time to find our own way – to wake, rise, feed, bathe, eat, rest, work, feed, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat.
But how do we repeat the daily mundane (over and over and over and over and over and over) when there are no more angelic choruses? no more heart-stopping first breaths? no more heavenly pronouncements of good news for all the earth? no more supernatural visits? no more Emmanuel?
Ah: Think. Listen. Reason.
Even if the angelic choruses, first breaths, heavenly pronouncements, and supernatural visits are past, this will never pass:
God with us. God as us. God for us. God in us.
Though he arrived at a specific moment in time, he still is. He still is God. He still is here. He still is Emmanuel.
And that means there is no such thing as everyday-everynight meaningless mundane life.
If Emmanuel, then rejoice.
If Emmanuel, then life.
If Emmanuel, then hope.
If Emmanuel, then love.
Night nine is not the ninth cycle of the same. It is a new cycle, just as each day and each night is … because Emmanuel.
I wonder if Mary slept on this night – the night when her tiny babe perhaps whimpered and wept in lingering pain.
On this day, her babe was circumcised, formally marked as a Jew, one of God’s chosen people.
God himself, marked as belonging to himself. Our faith is a paradox in countless ways.
On this day, her babe was named, formally identified as Yeshua bar Joseph. Jesus, son of Joseph. His earthly name for his earthly identity, which was fully him.
But also this: Christos, the only begotten of God. Messiah son of God. His essential name for his divine identity, which was fully him. The paradoxes are indeed countless.
But on this night, for the young mother Mary cradling her newborn babe, the paradoxes of name and identity and purpose matter little. For her, the paradoxes are more earthy, more present, more immediate:
I love this child more than anything I have ever loved…yet he is but eight days old.
I am exhausted beyond words, tired to death, weary in body and soul…yet I would move a mountain to protect and love my child.
I am ill-equipped for this task, unable to provide what any babe needs…yet I am Mother and Mary and Me, ready for all that lies ahead.
I wonder what Mary called her babe before he was named on this day, what she breathed into his ears as she held him at her breast, what she sang in her mind as she celebrated his life?
My Child. You. Precious One. Mine.
I wonder what God calls us as he breathes into our souls while cradling us in his loving arms, what he sings in his heart as he celebrates our life?
My Child. You. Precious One. Mine.
It is the eighth night of Christmas. The Christ-child is now marked and named. Are we?
‘Tis the seventh night of Christmas, and the world is enamored with celebrating New Year’s Eve.
This is a night of endless promise as we look towards the magical tomorrow.
Tomorrow (fingers crossed) is a new start. Tomorrow (please, oh please, oh please) things will be better. Tomorrow (this year we really mean it) we will try harder.
Tomorrow we will be new people who eat better, stay organized, purge excess, read more, spend less.
We promise others. We plead with ourselves. We clench tight our fists and commit to sincere and lasting newness in this coming year.
It is our last best hope, this opportunity to start over, year after year after year after year after year.
‘Tis the seventh night of Christmas, and the world is enamored with celebrating New Life through Christ.
This is a night of endless promise as we look towards a faithful and forgiven tomorrow.
Every tomorrow (assuredly) is a new day. Every tomorrow (by God’s good pleasure) things will still be in his control. Every tomorrow (by surrendering our will) we will be further sanctified.
Every tomorrow we can be new people who love others more, worry about ourselves less, follow Christ more closely, worship God more fully.
We hold to God’s promises. We die to our desires. We open wide our hands and commit to selfless and spirit-filled renewal in this new moment and day and year.
It is our only hope, this gift of being made new, day after day after day after day after day.
The sixth night of Christmas in the drowsy Midwest is perfectly cold (the kind of cold that bites into one’s bones) and beautifully snowy (the kind of snow that reflects in the night).
Christmas lights still flicker throughout the neighborhoods.
Christmas trees still stand, bare under the bottom branches.
Christmas cards pile high, some opened, some read, some set aside.
Christmas seasonal sections are swept aside – February 14th looms large.
Christmas music (except perhaps in the most festive of homes) is quiet.
Christmas leftovers are gone, chewed, swallowed, eaten right up.
Christmas – the extravaganza – has run its course and been boxed up for another year. We are now more interested in the wintry weather than the incarnated arrival.
But Christmas – the birth of Christ, the arrival of Emmanuel – has only just begun. It is less than one week old.
At six days old, a babe is still just an infant.
At six days in, Christmas is still just a breath – the first breath of good news, of real life, of God with us, of infinite breaths to come.
Breathe in the cold air. Feel it cleanse your lungs, freeze your worry, and clear your soul.
Look at the snow. See it blink in the night, light the dark, and dance in the wind.
And then start celebrating Christmas again, for infinite breaths to come.
Over and over and over she counts them –
- 1-2-3-4-5 fingers
- 1-2-3-4-5 fingers
- 1-2-3-4-5 toes
- 1-2-3-4-5 toes
– kissing each one gently, joyfully, with her mother lips.
Each one accounted for. Each one warm with life. Each one astonishing, a miniature digit, marvelously made, wonderfully formed.
1-2-3-4-5 and 1-2-3-4-5 and 1-2-3-4-5 and 1-2-3-4-5.
Twenty breathtaking glimpses of glory. Twenty unique prints of divinity. Twenty brilliant points of life.
Could anything be more earthy, more human, more formed-of-dust than baby fingers and toes? Could anything be more delicate, more humble, more knit-together-in-a-mother’s-womb than baby fingers and toes? Could anything be more amazing, more astounding, more woven-together-in-the-dark-of-the-womb than baby fingers and toes?
Baby fingers and toes – whether on the incarnate God or each infant created in his image – reveal the true heart of the Almighty Father, a heart that counts and knows every finger, every toe, every hair, every cell, every child.
One day. Two days. Three days. Four…
On what day does a new life take hold, wrap its fingers tightly round your heart, dig its roots deep into your soul, and sink its very spirit into your love?
None can measure a miracle of new life – whether it be a newborn breathing babe or a reborn broken self.
When we see – really see – the brokenness we each carry; and when we hear – really hear – that brokenness needn’t be the end of our story; and when we know – really know – that healed wholeness is offered in the form of forgiveness; and when we believe – really believe – that we are truly made new …
well, how many days does it take for that newness to feel real?
or, how many days might to take for that newness to be forgotten?
We do so easily forget things of deep import, things that rearrange our selves and remake our days. That’s because rearranged selves and remade days always require work and often result in pain.
By the once-for-all shed blood of Christ (the shed blood of the humble babe who was but four days old once-upon-a-time), we are made fully new in a moment.
By the ongoing surrendering of self (the self of the me who battles pride always-upon-a-time), we are made ever new moment by moment.
It is a long and weary process. It is a great and glorious pageant.
It is the trek and trod of all who follow The Way of the babe.
On the fourth night of Christmas, may you be overwhelmed not just by the Savior’s new life but also by the new life that is found only through the Savior.