The humblest day of the year has to be Dec. 26. At least Dec. 24 gets to be Christmas Eve. All the other dates between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the “Holiday Season.” There’s great anticipation and much preparation in those days. The spirit of Christmas is there; but Dec. 26 is different.
Some calendars will say it is Boxing Day, which is an excuse for the British and Canadians to take time off. In the United States, Dec. 26 is not an exciting day. In fact, it can be a depressing day. It is the beginning of the “Let-Down Season.” The decorations go away and along with them go all the holiday cheer and good tidings. Early on the morning after Christmas, sales reports become testimonies to greed and selfishness. The advertisers have picked up on this post-holiday let-down and have even tapped into the after-holiday cynicism. (“Haven’t you had a little too much Christmas?”) Get ready, because the fitness ads are right around the corner.
In the lectionary tradition, the year is not ending with Dec. 26; rather it is just beginning. All the preparation and anticipation is coming to fruition. Let’s learn from this. Whether your style is Advent or “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” consider this: we have spent the last month or so talking about Christ and his first coming into the world and his second yet-to-be coming into the world. So, the question before us on Dec. 26 (or on any other day) is, “What does Immanuel (God with us) mean today?”
John the Baptist had a Dec. 26 moment. He was wondering if all the anticipation and preparation had come to an end. John had dedicated himself to a hard, outdoor life in the desert eating grasshoppers and getting stung while harvesting wild honey. He was decked out in his camel hair shirt and his old leather belt. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. John was a prophet – like Elijah (he dressed like Elijah) – and his message was point blank: “The Lord is coming, so get ready now! Turn from wickedness, sinners, and repent! Be baptized, washed clean!” John’s message was tough, but he had a vision that after him would come the Day of the Lord. The one who would come after him would be the Son of Man, which meant the judge of all the earth. The one who would come after him would be the Messiah, which meant God’s chosen king. This was breaking news and John was the herald of this arrival.
On John’s Dec. 26, all those rough years spent out in the desert and his bold proclamations (he pointed fingers at kings and called them sinners) are coming to an end. John is in prison and he thinks he will probably be executed. Was it worth it? Was all the preparation and preaching in vain or in faith? Was Jesus the one? John had to know. Maybe he doubted. Maybe he wanted to see the fireworks start. That’s a Dec. 26 moment. He’s looking back. You might even call it a Dec. 31 moment, because he is looking back and asking, “What was it all about? What gives it meaning? What puts the seal on my life and validates it?”
Two of John’s disciples approach Jesus and ask him, “Are you the coming one, or do we wait for another one?” That is John’s Dec. 26 question. He wants to know if he can look back at his ministry and connect it with Jesus, or if he should pick up and start getting ready for the next Christmas. After all, Dec. 26 is also the day when we pack it up and start looking forward for the next Dec. 25. But John wants to know if that is what he has to do or if he can go to the executioner knowing that he had seen the one he was preaching about.
Jesus’s answer is to let John and his disciples judge for themselves. What have they seen and heard? The blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news brought to them. Jesus asks them to weigh the miracles and all those signs of grace. Is that Messiah work? Jesus’s reply asks another set of questions: “Well, what did you expect? What sort of Messiah were you looking for?”
Some will focus on the birth of the Messiah on Dec. 25. That picture of the Messiah is of a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. But the Dec. 26 Messiah must be one who can respond to the prisoners, the doubters and the faithful. He must be a Messiah who can give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the sick, and life to the dying!
What kind of Messiah were you looking for? The good news of Jesus is that the kingdom of God is about judgment, but it is also about grace. The reign of God is here and is being established; all we wait for now is the victory party.
We prepare for the second coming (as John did for the first coming) but we do not have to wait for the second coming for these things to happen. We do not have to pack up our expectations and wait for another Christmas. We don’t have to wait for another Savior to come. The good news for Dec. 26 is that we can start living in the kingdom of Christ now, being joyful, being healed, being forgiven, being patient, being free, and traveling safe along the holy way. We are not ending a season, but we are invited to begin enjoying the journey and the time and nurture it takes, enjoying the rule of God and the fellowship of the people around us. Thank God for Boxing Day.