This is the greeting that I have given and received thousands of times during the past few days.
It joins with other greetings of this season -- "Happy Holidays" and "Happy New Year."
The purpose is simply and directly to wish people well and to hope that this season of generosity and love is merry, joyful and happy.
In my particular Christian tradition there are 12 days of the Christmas season beginning with Christmas day itself and continuing through Jan. 5.
During these days, we celebrate the love of God given to humanity and, indeed, to the whole creation marked in the event of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem so many centuries ago, and we believe that this love comes to us now in our own world, souls and lives.
I am glad that there are 12 days for the celebration of this, although I also acknowledge that we have been singing carols of the season and enjoying Christmas decorations for a good long time before Dec. 25.
For me, the 12 days reminds me that the spirit and meaning of this great event and festival do not come to an end when Christmas dinner has finished and the dishes are washed up and put away.
Rather it goes on -- yes, for 11 more days, but even more so, it goes on much, much longer through the way that we live our lives in light of the love of God and in respect for all human beings.
Howard Thurman, the great African-American leader, philosopher and educator, wrote these words about 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, Read Full Article
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 everyone,
To make music in the heart."
(The Work of Christmas)
What a wonderful description of the continuing meaning, spirit and work of Christmas. It needs a dozen days and a lot more. Indeed, it needs a lifetime. This work and witness of Christmas belong to all of us.
In fact, the actions described belong to all people. Christians, people of differing faiths, and those who hold no faith position at all. Why? Because our world is so very hungry for "finding, healing, feeding, releasing, rebuilding, peace-making, and making music in our hearts." These actions are for all of us. They reflect the love of God, I am sure of that. And . . . they can remake and renew the world around us. They can restore and remake our own lives and relationships.
I wish everyone who reads these words a "Merry Christmas!!" and, for that matter, "Happy Holidays" and "Happy New Year." I offer these wishes with genuine hope and joy for all of us and for the world. And I hope that the spirit and the work of Christmas will continue, will grow, and will renew us and the world around us. May the work of Christmas begin.
May it go through these dozen days, well into a new year of grace and possibility, and into the ongoing living of our lives.
The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler is Rector of Christ Church Greenwich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.