A number of years ago Christian musician Jim Strathdee wrote a song based on a poem by the Quaker preacher Howard Thurman, in which the first verse reads, "When the song of the Angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and the shepherds have found their way home, the work of Christmas is begun!"
As 2002 ends and 2003 begins, there is much "work of Christmas" to do for all who would follow Jesus. It is time for Christians to make Christ visible by feeding the poor, healing the broken, bringing hope to the world, and making "music in an old person's heart," in the words of Strathdee. It is time for Christians to witness to Christ by praying boldly for peace. It is time to proclaim justice, not war, whether in Iraq or elsewhere. It is time to teach children to love rather than fight. It is time to build up families and communities that have been invaded by drug abuse and violence. It is time to restore healthy forests and rivers that have been degraded by disease, pollution and misuse.
The agenda is immense, but the work starts with individuals who have listened for God's call to a vocation of peace making, justice, compassion and witness. Such a call often comes when one becomes aware of the conditions around one's own community, and notices the disjuncture between reality and the promise of abundant life that the gospel asserts. When individuals and congregations come together to effect change, marvelous things can happen.
In our own communities, we see such cooperative witness in the ministry of Agape House in Hermiston and Helping Hand in Pendleton, as well as free-lunch programs like Open Table and home-building projects like Habitat for Humanity.
But Christians cannot forget that justice as well as compassion is a duty and a calling. There is work to be done through legislatures to support public education and remedy the out-of-control health care system. Solving the issues around land use, farming, and environmental justice for fish and wildlife will require balancing divergent interests and softening hearts filled with distrust and hatred.
On top of that is the matter of war. For Christians, war, if it is to be supported at all, must be a decision of last resort, for we know that such violence is contradictory to Christ's gospel of peace. It is critical that the leaders of America debate the possibility of war with Iraq carefully and fully before taking any irreversible steps. This will only happen if concerned citizens raise the issues with their elected representatives and with the President. Each of us is called to make our concerns known and to continue to follow the arguments with critical ears. Only then can we have any confidence that our nation is acting for justice and not abusing its power as the world's only superpower. Even then, we must pray for peace and demand the protection of noncombatants whose lives are devastated by the chaos.
The work of Christmas begins as the ornaments go back in their boxes and we seek to follow the Morning Star that is Christ by living for the light day by day. It is demanding and often controversial, but necessary if we are to be faithful to the one we call King and Savior.