This past year seemed like the perfect chance for me to do all the “Christmas things.” My kids are the right ages (10, 5, and 2) to be into the trappings of the holiday. We had no plans to travel. And most importantly, I’m on a break from pastoring a church. (Advent and Christmas are to pastors like tax season is to accountants: incredibly busy.) So this was the year. We were going to keep Christmas right, à la Ebenezer Scrooge after his conversion.
Overall, I’m happy to create a mishmash of the sacred and secular in the season. As a Christian who follows the liturgical year, I love the convergence of secular and sacred calendars at this time of year (such as the lovely countercultural surprise of a shopping mall inviting a choir to sing a hymn in its center court).
Our family had an Advent calendar to practice the discipline of waiting, as well as a Jesse tree so that we knew the stories of God’s people moving toward Jesus. We drove into the mountains to cut down our own tree, resulting in a sparkly pine in our living room window, sending light out into the darkness on short nights. The church Christmas pageant (and its hours of rehearsal; our church takes its pageant very seriously) ensured that my kids knew the Christmas story down to the details. We went to church every Sunday in Advent, and Christmas Eve and Day, too. We cleared our schedules to attend kids’ school holiday programs as a family and we went caroling at the Veterans Administration Hospital with the Girl Scouts. And on Christmas Eve, everyone dressed up in shiny new clothes, because Jesus’ birth is a big deal, worthy of some celebration.
It was a beautiful Christmas, as my Instagram account will attest. But as I enter 2017, I’m exhausted and my husband and I have both been sick with a lingering cold and cough for about two weeks. My children are overstimulated and need to return to some ordinary routines. We all need a break from the busyness of this season, and I’m grateful to the liturgical calendar for providing it.
This is a season when we wake up, with the coming of longer days and more light, to the reality of what it means to be disciples.
The days of Christmas officially ended in the Western Christian calendar with Epiphany, on Jan. 6, and the celebration of Jesus’ baptism on Sunday. Until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, churches that follow the liturgical calendar sometimes refer to these days as “Ordinary Time.” “Ordinary” is from the Latin root word for numbering, so these Sundays are not ordinary in the sense of “normal.” The Gospel stories read from the lectionary in many churches these weeks will be the stories of the disciples, who were strangely compelled to join Jesus, and then the surprising message of the Sermon on the Mount. The apex comes with the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop.
These stories are just the relief I need from a busy season of Christmas. This is a season to be surprised by this baby who is also the Christ, taking the time to be shocked by the radical nature of his all-too-familiar words, and to be reminded that the Good News will turn this world on its head. It’s a season when we wake up, with the coming of longer days and more light, to the reality of what it means to be disciples.
My family celebrated Jesus’ birth well, and now it’s time to remember who Jesus is, and who Jesus calls his followers to become. I’m eager to sit with these stories about Jesus, and to tell them to my children. And I’m grateful for a season without all of the layers of cultural expectations, both sacred and secular, to give us the space and time to chart the path of discipleship to which we are called in the new year.