forgiveness • peacemaking • reconciliation
equality • poverty • missions


The Work of Christmas

December 24, 2018 by

“There were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem,” Thomas Merton once wrote. “The ox and the donkey understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem. And it is the same way today.”

Once more Christmas is here, knocking at the doors of our hearts. After all the busyness of practical preparations for the holiday season, Christians around the world will pause to remember and celebrate its true meaning, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to earth as a baby, born in a manger two thousand years ago.

painting of Adoracion de los pastoresBartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Adoration of the Shepherds

Yet even so we can easily miss the full significance of this happening for our own lives and for our world today. Christmas is more than remembering the miracle of Christ’s birth – it is also a time to reflect on our discipleship and to see how we can more closely follow the commandments of Jesus. And it is a call to look forward to the future, to the joy and expectation of the second coming of Christ, when his kingdom will be established on the earth.

Christmas is our assurance that no matter how dark the world may seem, the darkness cannot overcome the light. 

That future can be hard to imagine when all around us we see confusion and fear— the confusion of leaders of nations, confusion between nations, fear of refugees, fear of sickness, and fear of death. But the message of Christmas is one of hope, of renewal, of salvation. It is our assurance that no matter how dark the world may seem, the darkness cannot overcome the light (John 1:5). Jesus, the Light and the Truth, did not only come to Bethlehem long ago – he wants us to accept him into our lives today, and each day throughout the year. That is the call of Christmas: that we open our hearts to God and allow him to change us and renew us.

This simple yet powerful message is captured beautifully in the poem “The Work of Christmas” by civil rights leader and theologian Howard Thurman:

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 flocks,
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 the people,
To make music in the heart.

This work of Christmas gives each of us plenty to do each day, reaching out in compassion and love to those around us. As we look to the New Year ahead of us, let us make a renewed effort to commit ourselves to this task.


About the author

Paul Winter and his wife Betty

Paul Winter

Paul Winter serves as the Elder of the Bruderhof. He lives with his wife, Betty, at the Maple Ridge Bruderhof.

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