How do you feel after the Christmas season has ended? Sad? Relieved? Wistful? Lonely? Frustrated? Bloated? Excited that there are only 347 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes, and 2 seconds left until Christmas Day 2018 (according to xmasclock.com as of this writing)?
Until this year, my dominant experience was a kind of let down that reached its zenith during my yearly ritual of un-decorating the Christmas tree. All those wonderful ornaments laden with significance, collected over the years, that won’t see light for another eleven months. No warm glow of tree lights in the midst of a dark living room. No more Christmas music (OK, I occasionally sneak a mid-year listen to Over the Rhine’s extraordinary Snow Angels). All the anticipation, now gone. Days off, used up.
But this year my experience was different. Perhaps it was some significant family health concerns that helped keep my creeping nostalgia at bay—I don’t know. But as I carefully put each ornament away, instead of feeling let down I had a sense of anticipation, of moving forward with Jesus into the new year. It was a pleasant surprise. As much as I normally might want to hoard certain celebratory moments and live out of them, perhaps even trying to use them to shield myself from harsher day-to-day realities, time doesn’t stand still. I think of C. S. Lewis’s description of Narnia under the White Witch: “always winter and never Christmas.” I need to be careful I don’t have a longing for the opposite—a life that is “always Christmas and never winter.”
Churches that follow a liturgical calendar have moved from the season of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany and have entered “Ordinary Time” (the weeks between Epiphany and the start of Lent). In fact, the majority of the church year is spent in Ordinary Time (at least 33 weeks, including the time after Lent/Easter/Pentecost that ends with Advent). I find that significant. Our surrounding culture is enamored with the next celebration around the corner—our local drug store started displaying Valentine’s Day cards on Christmas Eve! But most of the Christian life is lived apart from the feasting of the Christmas season.
The same was true for Jesus. After the hubbub of a manger birth, awestruck shepherds, a star, and Magi bearing gifts, about thirty years of ordinary life awaited. Learning and practicing a trade. Growing in how to love his siblings and honor his parents. Plumbing the depths of Scripture. Luke describes it this way: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52). Jesus was not simply marking time; each day was a significant opportunity to grow in love for God and neighbor. Each day was a flagstone on the path to complete the work the Father had given him. It is no different for us.
The surrounding culture is looking ahead to Valentine’s Day. Not me (with apologies to my dear wife). This year I was content to stow the ornaments and lights and wonder at the bare tree whose green color (albeit fading) represents Ordinary Time. It may be winter and no longer Christmas in Glenside, PA, but each ordinary day is charged with significance. Perhaps like me, you hear the psalmist whispering in your ear as you move into the new year, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12).