As the old Andy Williams Christmas song reminds us, it may indeed be the most wonderful time of the year with its marshmallow toasting, much mistletoeing and parties for hosting. But let’s be real. The holiday season doesn’t just magically happen; it takes a lot of hard work to make the season bright.
There’s baking and buying, tree trimming and card writing, house cleaning and gift-wrapping, menu planning and light hanging, cooking and traveling, and countless trips to stores for that last decoration, gift, or food item.
Christianity in North America has long since abandoned the notion of this being a twelve day long celebration of feasting and merriment extending out to January 6th. So with the turn or two of a calendar page we quickly find ourselves setting our sights on the New Year. The work of Christmas is done and there is little left to do except take down the tree, pack up the decorations and put a plan in place to get rid of the pounds that we may have packed on between Thanksgiving and New Years.
But, what if, instead of making New Year’s resolutions that are primarily focused on ourselves (to lose weight, to quit a bad habit, to save money, to eat healthier, to manage stress, to reduce debt, to find a better job) what if we resolved ourselves to carry the spirit of Christmas into the entirety of the New Year?
Author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader Howard Thurman (1899-1981) captures this sentiment in his poem 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 people,
To make music in the heart.
What if my resolution for the New Year was to: Serve my neighbor more frequently and with more intentionality? Mend a particular broken relationship? Make a weekly phone call to a loved one? Deepen my understanding of people who are different than me? Improve my listening skills? Forgive someone who has previously been an enemy? Make an adversary a friend? Read a book every day with your young child or grandchild? Give more generously of my time and talents?
The success rate for people making New Year’s resolutions is said to be less than 8 percent. That is a pretty abysmal number to consider. But maybe the issue is not that the 92 percent are somehow weak and lacking in sufficient will and resolve to make themselves better? Maybe the issue is where our resolve is being placed? Maybe we fail so frequently because we are not created for self-improvement but rather for improvement of each other?
While we are certainly hard-wired for self-preservation and need to be mindful of our own growth and development, perhaps it is the spirit of love and betterment of the other that sustains us. That gives us life. And makes music in the heart.
So my challenge to you this year is to carry the Christmas spirit into the New Year.
Resolve your self to make life better for another.
Because when we do, we make life better for ourselves.