There are still some gifts under the tree, but they shiver, naked without the gay Christmas wrap surrounding them. They wait forlornly to find a permanent place in the house.
Stockings hang from the mantle – one with a small lump still in the bottom, most deflated of their surprises. One is missing altogether, dragged to some unknown spot and abandoned by a grandson.
The house still smells of turkey, sweet potatoes, and apple pie, which just a day before was tantalizing, yet today is cloying and excessive.
The quiet is eerie. Yesterday, grandparents were laughing, children were teasing, and grandchildren were singing. Festive music danced in the background while everyone played games or explored their new toys. Today everyone is travelling back home, to their own lives.
The anticipation and excitement of advent, the waiting, is over. The celebration of the Christ-child’s coming is completed. Perhaps not today, but soon the tree will be dismantled, decorations packed away, leftovers frozen, and thank-you notes sent. When the excitement of Christmas is over and when pieces of the celebration are cleaned up, we return to our usual routines of daily life; we begin Ordinary Time.
Ordinary Time is marked in orthodox churches. One period of Ordinary Time is between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the Easter season. The church does not mean life is to become commonplace after the celebration of the birth of Jesus, though our days may once again become average, with regular people, places, and activities passing the time until the next celebration. Most years, life after Christmas generally returns to the same life we had before Christmas, yet during this Ordinary Time, life can be anything but ordinary. The orthodox churches provide certain Scriptures to read and smaller celebrations to note, to help parishioners in the extra-ordinary life of walking with God.
Not everyone practices Ordinary Time. For many, life just carries on as it always did.
Even on that first day after the birth of our Saviour, most of the city of Bethlehem, as well as the rest of the world, went about their daily lives not knowing everything had changed. For some, though, like the Shepherds who received an invitation to witness the coming of the Messiah, daily life was forever changed. We too can leave the Christmas season forever changed. The Shepherds show us just what ordinary time after celebrating Jesus’ birth could look like.
Scripture describes in Luke 2:8-16 how, after having a frightening yet joyful encounter with an Angel who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, and hearing the thunderous praise of the Heavenly Host, the shepherds left their flocks to join Mary and Joseph in celebrating the birth of this baby.
Luke 2:17-20 goes on to tell us that after the quiet celebration, when they left the side of the manger to return to their flocks, to their daily, regular, routine lives, they knew everything had changed.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told. – Luke 2:17-20 NIVProclaiming what they knew to be true. Glorifying and praising God. This response to Christmas is one that would excite God!
We know God loves celebrations. In fact, He told His people to make sure they gathered and shared feasts at specific times each year, which Jesus himself celebrated. While Christmas is not one of the prescribed festivals mentioned in Leviticus 23, we can surmise that God is pleased when any celebration includes welcoming His presence into our midst, and when those celebrations make a difference in our ordinary times.
Christmas is a festival of rejoicing - God became a man, Jesus, to live among us. He came, an extraordinary child in an ordinary world, living in a way that enabled Him to be the perfect sacrifice to reconcile humanity to God. So that we can live our daily, ordinary lives in peace with God.
Did your Christmas festivities this year include remembering the birth of Christ? Having celebrated the coming of our Lord, will you, like the shepherds, also carry proclamations and praise about Him into your regular, day-to-day, ordinary life?
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” - Luke 2:14 NIV