Christmas blues, Epiphany light

By Richard Helmer

One of our five-year-old’s favorite Christmas gifts this year was a racing track made in China (where else?) with a little wind-up car. The track itself consists of soft plastic with sharp edges and tight junctions, requiring fifteen minutes plentiful parental sweat – we hope with minimal swearing – to assemble. All this effort is just so the car can zoom around the loops in under three seconds. Daniel remains interested in the zooming car for about five minutes and then walks away, leaving the hunk of plastic languishing in our living room.

For me, the racing track offers a metaphor of our commercialized Christmas, with all of the effort, sweat, and even blood that we pour out year and after year, just so the culture can walk away from the festival the day after; so the country can get back to its routine with all of the bad news, frustrations, and anxieties. Our families and individual lives are much the same way. Back to the frustrations of the “routine” whatever is routine these days, with all of the rawness of the holidays still to cope with. If your family and circle of friends is a bit like mine, you’ll recognize that the five-year-old leaving the hunk of plastic on the living room floor, metaphorically or literally, is a major potential source of conflict needing to be re-negotiated. Christmas left us with more sore-spots, sometimes, than we started with – raw material for New Year resolutions, perhaps.

Well, the whole thing is a recipe for the Christmas blues, if you ask me – and I always have a few of those in the first few weeks after Christmas, where the carols and the garlands and the greens have started to lose their crispness. Sunday attendance is low, and some folk are already taking down the Christmas lights or tossing out the tree. Cardboard is piling up outside the recycling bins and children and adults are already getting bored with their new toys. Put in Christian theological terms: Jesus needs changing, the shepherds have returned to the grunt and grime of the fields, and the wise men are packing up to leave. There is even the sinister story remembered the week after Christmas of Herod’s horrific slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, and Mary and Joseph fleeing with the Jesus into Egypt.

I don’t know about you, but there’s an idealist in me somewhere that expected the world to be permanently altered after Christmas – filled with light from the little town of Bethlehem and harbingers of peace and transformation for the new year. Instead, the Gaza strip and portions of Israel are under bombardment, and hundreds of people are losing their lives. Closer to home things are thankfully not so violent, but the checking account still needs balancing after a December binge and, with the recession looming large, planning for the New Year is anything but rosy for most, if not all of us.

As we turn to Epiphany, I take heart from the perennially uplifting passage from the prologue of John: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

It sums up the hope we are to take away from Christmas and into Epiphany – hope that we nurture and hold in the darkness for ourselves and even more importantly for one another. The author of John, with rough-hewn Greek dispensing profound theological ideas insists on seeing our lives, the world, and all of creation through God’s eyes: a God who called us good before we saw the daylight; a God who birthed galaxies and quarks; a God who still looks at the world with all of its darkness, haunted by old hurts, and still calls it good. And we receive this light to carry: the newborn Christ, the newborn hope that is ours for the taking. Sometimes, like Mary and Joseph, we take him and flee the violence of the world. At other times, we cradle and shield him like a vulnerable, flickering flame in the darkness of a grimy stable.

Once our son forgets he ever had a plastic racing track made in China, there will still be this light shining in the darkness for him. And, for me, that’s good news for Christmas blues, shining in the darkness with Epiphany light, waiting for the next chapter of God’s redeeming grace to unfold.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, church politics, music, and the misadventures of young parenthood at Caught by the Light.

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