As we continue in the 12 days of Christmas, we journey toward completion at Epiphany. 12 is a symbolic number of completion or wholeness, combining two other numbers of wholeness, three and four. Such completions are like a symbolic circle or even the literal cycle of our orbit. Circles and cycles are at the center of spiritual symbols, stories and truths, even Christmas.
At Winter Solstice and Christmas, we complete a year and begin again in darkness like the traditional Jewish day. This is our Advent journey of descent into darkness. Yet into that darkness comes a Light, the Christ Light. As we turn from Luke’s Manger of Christmas Eve and to Matthew’s Magi on Epiphany Sunday to complete 12 days of Christmas, it is a star that lights the way. Starlight and Christ Light come together amidst the darkness for the purpose of Life. Yet darkness, both life denying and life supporting, is a part of the story and part of the cycle.
Our moments of potent Christmas Eve worship are a celebration of the coming of the Christ Light amidst darkness not a denial of the difficult darkness in our lives or in the life of the world. Our worship is meant to build the light in us to meet faithfully with the violence in the world and the brokenness in life. The darkness, even that of present-day war zones like Bethlehem, is meant to be present in our Advent journey and Christmas story. We complete the Christmas circle by letting the Christ Light live through us and into a darkened world as peace and justice making, as courage and compassionate action.
The late Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, a great teacher of many including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, said it this way in his poem entitled The Work of Christmas:
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.