Today is the twelfth, and final, day of Christmas. The older I get, the more I like the idea of twelve days of Christmas following the season of Advent, and not just because it “prolongs” things. There’s almost no way of keeping Christmas from seeping into Advent. But once Christmas is “done,” it’s done. People are ready to take down trees and clean up sanctuaries and to get on with things (and no real decorations until next year!). Twelve days allows the truth of things to linger.
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I haven’t written much about the beginning of the liturgical calendar except for at the beginning of Advent. I think it’s because I “feel” my way through Advent (and maybe even Christmas) a little differently than others, even my more liturgical friends. Advent is about longing: putting ourselves in the place of those who longed for God’s covenant promise fulfilled so that we may better long for Jesus’ return at the consummation of history. And I’ve come to believe that even the most basic longing, on some level, is rooted in the lack of fulfillment of the greater longing. And for whatever it is good at, the church doesn’t have much to say about longing. And yet it’s there, at the very heart of the human condition and the stories of history. And if we can’t talk about longing well, how in the world should we be able to say something good about hope fulfilled, which is the great turn of Christmas?
But say it we do. And we mean what we say. But I can’t help but think that a depth of lasting joy might reveal our depth of genuine longing. And a big part of church is how we learn to communicate those things to one another in the framework of faith, which is another reason why it is good that we revisit not just the themes but the stories rooted in Advent and Christmas.
And, thankfully, the church calendar doesn’t simply leave us there. Next is the day of Epiphany, something that many of us (particularly Baptists) don’t really know what to do with. But it is the reminder that the story of Christmas continues on beyond the shepherds and the wise men, and that is a good thing. Because even there, as the stories and writings of the New Testament are true, longing rumbles just beneath the surface of things. And with that longing, hope.
Happy Twelfth Night, everyone!