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Redeeming the time after Christmas

The Christmas rush is over. Soon houses, now filled with the pine scent of Christmas trees and the lights and garlands and wreaths that set this time aside as special, will seem bare.  Wintry depression can come to take root if we don’t take care.

The poet W.H. Auden captured the after Christmas feeling very well. Toward the close of his long poem, “For the Time Being,” he wrote, “Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes—Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic. The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, And the children got ready for school.

“There are enough Leftovers to do, warmed up, for the rest of the week—Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, Stayed up so late, attempted—quite unsuccessfully—To love all of our relatives, and in general Grossly overestimated our powers.”

Auden’s “For the Time Being” is a Christmas Oratorio written for the bleak mid-Winter, post-Christmas malaise. The excitement of the holiday is past and now we get back to our daily lives made all the more dull by the brief holiday. 

For the Time Being was written on the heels of Auden’s conversion to Christianity. The lengthy poem gives Auden’s understanding Christianity, particularly the meaning of Jesus’ birth—the Incarnation. Auden looks to the excitement of the holidays with the realization that God never wanted our Christmas Day, but our everydays, the plain days with no celebration. The poem continues, 

“Once again As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed To do more than entertain it as an agreeable Possibility, once again we have sent Him away, Begging though to remain His disobedient servant, The promising child who cannot keep His word for long. The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory, And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now Be very far off. 

“Yet again, Christmas has offered us the vision of God with us and we have failed to fully grasp what it means for our daily lives. To those who have seen The Child, however dimly, however incredulously, The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all. For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be Grew up when it opened. Now recollecting that moment We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious; Remembering the stable where for once in our lives Everything became a You and nothing was an It.”

Auden wrote this Oratorio in England in 1941 and 42 and published it in 1944. He, like other Christians of the time, desperately wanted the brief glimpse of the Christ child to sustain the world in a time of war. The world was full of people naming other humans It. That’s how you get well-educated, thoughtful Germans to participate in the horror of the Holocaust. You rename another person as an “It” instead of a “You.” You dehumanize the other person. You certainly don’t try to see Christ in them. That the temptation to demonize the enemy existed on both sides of the conflict did not escape the poet. 

He concluded by writing, “In the meantime There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair, Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem From insignificance.  The happy morning is over, The night of agony still to come; the time is noon: When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure A silence that is neither for nor against her faith That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers, God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.”  

In lives full of work, keeping bills paid, writing papers or memorizing times tables for school, it would seem impossible to redeem everyday time from insignificance. Yet, that is just what scripture tells us is the Good News of Jesus’ birth. The Good News is not a holiday on which we remember a special birth long ago. The Good News is that all time is redeemable. Nothing has to be insignificant. 

God did not send Jesus to redeem merely a stable in Bethlehem, or even all of First Century Palestine. God sent his son into the world to love the world, to live among us and to redeem all time.  

Even what Auden refers to as the meantime when he wrote that we are to redeem the time being from insignificance. With Christmas now behind us, do we say that we have seen the vision and failed to do no more than entertain it as an agreeable possibility. Or are we ready for something more?

God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth in order to pitch his tent in our day-to-day existence. I’ll warn you. It is risky business. It will always be far easier to confine Jesus to holidays and perhaps Sunday mornings. It will always be far more difficult to invite the light of Christ into every area of your life.  

Are you ready for the light of Christ to shine in your darkness? What about the parts of you, that you hope no one notices? What about the parts you like to keep tucked under the bed or in the back of the closet, so to speak? Are you ready for the light of Christ to shine there too? 

The celebration is over. “Now we must dismantle the tree, putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes.” But the light of Christ was not meant to be tucked back in the attic with the decorations.

The love of God shone through Jesus was meant to take root in your soul and to redeem all the times of your life. And the love of God can still do just that, if you make room in your everyday life for light to shine in your darkness. 

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.) 

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