“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3a)
Now the work of Christmas begins! Howard Thurman (1899-1981), one of Martin Luther King’s mentors, was a pioneering theologian and visionary educator in the US. Long before King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech (1963), Thurman helped to form the US’s first racially-integrated, multicultural church in San Francisco in 1944. The ‘Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples’ which he pioneered with a white colleague, Dr. Alfred Fisk, is still going.
A litany Thurman wrote, called ‘The Work of Christmas’ (in his book The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, Friends United Press) was recirculating on social media recently this winter. The litany reads: “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.” Jim Strathdee wrote a hymn based on this litany (https://youtu.be/U2raH2XxEqU below) which also deserves a wider audience, particularly a line from the chorus: “If you follow and love, you’ll learn the mystery, of what you were meant to do and be.”
So: now that we have packed the festive season away and have settled back to ‘normal’, it is time to begin the work of Christmas. After all, it’s what we are meant to do and to be: seekers of the lost, healers of the broken, feeders of the hungry, liberators of the prisoner, rebuilders of the nation, peace-bringers and praise-singers.