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Senior Correspondent

We’ve done it for another year. While the liturgical calendar mandates that Christmas lasts for twelve days, let’s face it: when the football game ends sometime on the evening of Christmas day, for most Americans it is time to get over it. All the presents have been opened, and in a couple of days what is left of the live trees will be on the curbs ready for the trash hauler. Shortly the credit card statements will arrive and the merchants will tell us whether Christmas was a grand success or financial disaster. And isn’t that what the whole thing has been about — or at least much of it? But maybe not for everybody.

Not for Howard Thurman. After serving on the faculty of Howard University, he founded the “Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples," in San Francisco. His final post was as Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University (1953-65). But perhaps he is best remembered for his poetry.

For Thurman, as for many millions of others, the message of religion, particularly Christmas, is the entrée to a life-changing encounter with the Holy, and that means with the world. The mystery surrounding Jesus’ birth is far more than the telling of a beautiful story of angels, shepherds, wise men and a star hung over the manger. So what do we do when the last carol is a fading memory and the remnants of the feast have been safely refrigerated? Here is how Thurman put it:

When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and the 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 brothers,

To make music in the heart.

From The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations by Howard Thurman.

Friends United Press, 2001 edition

Here lies the critical difference in how people see religion. For some it is the belief in the story’s truth. For others it is a hope in life beyond the grave. For still others it is a mystical vision. But for many it is a call to bind up the world’s wounds. And that is what it was for Thurman and is for most of the Christians I know. It doesn’t bother me that probably for lots of religionists it is truth, hope or mystery. People see what they see. But what gives me hope each year when the angels have gone and the star is dimmed, is living with and knowing about Christians all over the world who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of peace, justice, compassion and the vision of a better world. That is what the story of the Christ child is at its core, and that is the heart of Christianity. Thurman’s vision is what goes on these days in seminaries, in thousands of congregations and in millions of homes, even as the decorations are being taken down and safely put in their boxes.

Have a blessed new year as you are a blessing somewhere and to someone.

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