By now, many are having PCDS, Post Christmas Depression Syndrome. If the American Psychological Association hasn’t classified this one yet, they probably will soon, in time for a happy new year.
The good news is that no one should be sad to see Christmas go because it hasn’t. You may have stopped, but Christmas continues. The Twelve Days of Christmas or Christmastide or Twelvetide (take your pick) has long been celebrated by most branches of the church, though less by churches in the United States. Christmastide begins Christmas Day and concludes on January 5th, leading up to Epiphany which celebrates Jesus’ manifestation to the wise men (and thus Gentiles) and the world on the 6th.
If we’re celebrating Christ, then clearly the we’re just getting started on December 25th. This is how it was for Mary and Joseph who began chaotic life as a family with Jesus in Bethlehem, but continued it as a blessed and hunted bunch from there. Celebrating Christmastide reminds us what the early life of Jesus was like both for him and those around him. Sometimes we miss these things in the hustle and joy of Advent. After the graveyard-shift shepherds heard the greatest rendition of the Messiah (front pasture,
box seats standing room only) ever performed (Matt. 2:14), a couple years later the Magi came from the east to present their gifts. This was about two years after the Jesus’ birth because Herod, wanting to protect his precious throne, had all male infants two years old and under put to death. A friend of mine says that manger scenes should include figures of Herod’s soldiers, and I tend to agree. This sort of thing heightens our understanding and appreciation of the life–after his birth–of Jesus.
We tend to think of Christ’s birth and next thing you know it we are at the Sermon on the Mount. Christmastide gives us the opportunity to remember and celebrate the early human life of Jesus, events that make our own troubles and tragedies seem much more a part of the gospel story. The salvation of the world Himself came in the midst of the sin and death that still linger here as our own salvation goes forward in A.D. 20-almost-13. Matthew’s Gospel includes the story of Herod, the slaughter of the innocents, and the flight to Egypt, and Luke’s tells us that once they settled back in Nazareth, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (2:40). Jesus was probably 3-4 years old, and he was growing in the knowledge of God. How does an omniscient God grow in the knowledge of God? By becoming a man and setting aside his divine privileges. Jesus was a little boy hungry to learn. By the time he was twelve, he was listening and asking questions in the temple as everyone marveled at his answers and understanding (Luke 2:42-47). Then the Gospels fast-forward another 18 years and John the Baptist walks out of the wilderness. Compared to his ministry, death and resurrection, the Gospels say very little about Jesus’ early life, but what they do say is wonderful and important, and the Twelve Days of Christmas are an opportunity to enjoy it.
Just what you wanted for Christmas: stuff to prepare for nearly two more weeks, right? Actually, my feeling is that enough preparation has been done already and certainly there is enough food in the house. For those with small people, pick a day to play with certain toys–Jesus played with toys, so let’s do it like him, shall we? For us this year, there is a little gift box and every day there is something for the kids: a small game, something to eat, a brief but rowdy scavenger or hot/cold hunt, a book, etc. It’s basically like Advent with little celebrations tucked in to each day, bringing everything to life and focused significance. We read Christmas and Bible stories like the ones above and continue celebrating the incarnation in an easy way. Some will say the celebration is too much, and they are like “those who saw the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and said, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her children”" (Matt. 11:19).
Merry 7th Day of Christmas!