Holidays. I think about the word as I mouth the lyrics to “O Come Emmanuel,” a 900-year-old Christmas carol I’m listening to today because I’m already scripting a Christmas program for the performing arts group I co-direct.
Holidays. High points. Holy days. Life swirls around them like a river around jutting pinnacles of rock. They direct the ebb and flow of our lives. They are collectives of memories and teachings; they are an intensity of significance that defines spirituality and semester alike.
Christmas gets most of the attention, at least if your background is secular or Protestant. Easter, it could be argued, has the greater significance. God could have been born into the world and then just left, and we’d not be any better off. It’s the drama of the Passion Week that has really changed things. So it’s good that we note these days. That we celebrate them. That we decorate our homes, change our diets, and attend special church services to remember the high points that promise to transform our lives.
But what about life between the holidays?
Can the everyday, the Monday afternoon or Wednesday morning or Friday dusk that does not mark the incarnation of God or the death of sin or the resurrection of the King of Kings — can that day be significant, too?
I wonder about this as the familiar strains of the carol fill the warm spring air. Holidays are inspiring, like the high points in my own life — weddings and births and even, in a strange way, funerals. But what about life between the holidays, between the high points? What about everyday, run-of-the-mill, uninspiring work days in which we just raise children or clack keyboards or dig fence posts or fight off the flu? Where’s the sacrament, the holiness, in that life?
“O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny,” I sing softly. “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” Emmanuel — God with us. He didn’t, I realize, show up just for the high points. Jesus wasn’t born in a flourish of angels only to lie low until He climbed Calvary. He came to live — everyday, run-of-the-mill, uninspiring life.
Oh, I know Jesus’ last three years were a blaze of glory. But they were also really, really hard. In the four Gospels we have records of Jesus being tempted and tired; we see Him grieving, wanting to be alone, feeling frustration, dealing with all the consequences of sin around Him. And doing something else, it dawns on me slowly. In those three years, in life between the holidays, we see Jesus turning every day into a holy day for our sake.
For several years I’ve spent time alone in my room on Christmas morning. I’ll read a Gospel account or two of Jesus’ birth and curl up under my fuzzy blanket praying. This year I realized I wasn’t just celebrating Jesus’ birth; I was celebrating my own. When I believed, I was justified by Jesus’ righteousness. Romans 3:21-25 declares:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
My life is saved by the blood of Christ, blood that was worthy to atone for me because it was the blood of a life flawlessly lived. In the history of my redemption, every day Jesus lived matters.
“From depths of hell Thy people save,” the song continues. “And give them victory over the grave.” My victory over the grave is won because Jesus rose from the dead, and the Bible says I was raised with Him. Likewise, my righteousness isn’t mine. I wear Jesus’ righteousness like a cloak, and it’s not just His innate goodness I’m wearing. It’s all the practical, real-world goodness He lived out in life between the holidays.
Jesus crafted His life as a gift for us. He was consciously making sure His atoning sacrifice would be worthy — would be more than worthy — to cover our sin. As a young boy, Jesus respected His human parents to cover my lack of respect for mine. He defeated Satan in the desert to cover all those times I give in to temptation. He walked in vibrant relationship with His Father and obeyed Him in every point, even when it didn’t make sense. And He did it because I am disobedient, because I question God, because sometimes I let my relationship with Him go slack. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Jesus lived His perfect life, His abundant life, His giving, wonderful, righteous life, and then offered it up as a gift — carefully crafted, purposefully designed, beautifully choreographed, as a sacrifice to His Father and as a gift for us.
We call Christmas and Easter “holy days.” We observe Lent as a holy season. But Jesus lived 365 days a year for 33 years, and in doing so He made every day holy. He filled every season with significance. And He gave every day of His life to us.
Can I challenge you to think about that today? I am challenging myself, even as I write. I treat Christmas and Easter as special days, taking time in the morning to recognize what God has done. What about today? Can I spare 10 minutes in the morning to read about Jesus’ life between the holidays and purposefully bless God for giving me such a precious gift? Will I worship God because He didn’t stay on the pinnacles but came down in the water with us to be baptized in the everyday flow? Can I recognize the sacrament in the ordinary day?
And if I do recognize it, if I see the fingerprints of God in the everyday, will I let that affect my life? Will I believe that what God says about me is true and walk in it? (I am reconciled to God, I am dead to sin, I am a child of God, I have become the righteousness of God — Romans 5:10, Romans 6:2, Romans 8:16, 2 Corinthians 5:21.)
Moreover, will I look honestly at the fabric of my everydays? Romans 12:1 tells us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” I know that my sacrifice can never compare to Jesus’ sacrifice, but then, it doesn’t have quite the same purpose. His was a sacrifice of atonement. Mine is a sacrifice of worship and thanks. But will I honor Jesus by crafting my life, designing my priorities, choreographing my actions as a humble gift for the One who gave everything — truly everything — for me?
As I’m typing this, Easter weekend is long over. The darkness of Good Friday has past, the long silence of Saturday is over, Sunday has been and gone in all its glory. And (strains of Christmas music notwithstanding) the holiday season that stretches through November and December, that slides into the New Year and tiptoes through Lent until it reaches the brilliance of Easter, has ended.
But holiness has not. It’s life between the holidays that matters most in the history of my redemption and in its future too — in what was lived for me, and in what I live in response. Jesus’ everyday atoned for me. My everyday is a chance to worship Him.
Copyright 2010 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved.