A growl and a song emerged from my lips in quick succession as I stood at the changing table with my 1-year-old son on Christmas Eve morning. With the confidence of someone who believes they have a wipe firmly in hand, I had plunged my bare finger into my son’s soft, warm, wet filth.
The disgust and frustration with myself lasted longer than my exclamation, but I quickly switched back to singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” We sing to our son on the changing table, as this tends to keep him happy and distracts him, in the hope that he would not feel the need to flip onto his stomach or stick his own hands into his mess. It works. Sometimes.
My wife later pointed out the strange juxtaposition she experienced hearing these two distinct shouts from the other room, transitioning smoothly from irritation to exultation. It made me think of the “already” and the “not yet” of Christmas. The “already” being the assurance we have that Jesus entering the world as a baby, the life he led, his death, and his resurrection have changed things utterly. And the “not yet” being the recognition that the fullness of this promise will not be with us this side of eternity.
As we live in the “not yet,” we are called to join with God in the work of bringing more of the “already” into our present. As Jesus left his heavenly throne to live in the messiness of our world, we, too, will need to get our hands dirty (both metaphorically and, as with my hand on Christmas Eve morning, literally). In “The Work of Christmas,” Black theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman, shows us how:
“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,
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 others,
To make music in the heart.”
As we engage in this work of Christmas all year long, it will sometimes be more “Aargh!”, as the world is not as it was meant to be. And it will sometimes be more “Rejoice!”, as Christ has made and is making all things new. And it will often lead us to shout both at once, as we live in both the “already” and the “not yet.” May God grant us the grace and ability to hold and live out the “Aargh!” and the “Rejoice!” of Christmas together throughout the year!
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Justin T. Neiman Westbrook
Justin T. Neiman Westbrook, Ph.D., is a Licensed Psychologist at the Internal Medicine Clinic at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, OR, who helps people with a range of mental health issues, as well as with issues in daily living, including spiritual concerns and self-care. Justin serves as Eden Spiritual Care's secretary/treasurer.