Monday, December 26, 2011

"The Work of Christmas"

Howard Thurman was an outstanding theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. On this day after Christmas, we would do well to read and ponder one of his poems.
Howard Thurman (1899-1981)
Thurman was listed in Ebony Magazine as one of the 50 most important figures in African-American history. Among his twenty books is Jesus and the Disinherited (1949), which greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. (Thurman was the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, the first black person to be named tenured Dean of Chapel at a majority-white university, during the time King was a graduate student there)
Thurman’s poem “The Work of Christmas” was published in his book titled The Mood of Christmas (1985). You may have heard this poem previously, as it is very fitting in the days following the celebration of Christmas. It is a wonderful poem, and I invite you to give attention to it again:
So much of the Christmas season is shaped by commercialism, hedonism, and sentimentalism. But the true significance of Christmas is more than a sweet story of the miraculous birth of a baby who was immediately worshipped by rough shepherds and then by majestic magi.
As Thurman suggests, though, we have not properly celebrated Christmas unless we have committed ourselves afresh to feed the hungry, to do what we can to bring peace among all peoples, and to radiate the light of Christ in all our words and actions.
So now that Advent has been observed and Christmas has been celebrated, in both secular and religious ways for most of us, let’s get on with the work of Christmas. Then we will have truly celebrated the birth of Jesus.


  1. As C.S. Lewis noted, the incarnation of Christ was for one reason, to form a Church and Kingdom.

    Among Christ Jesus' final words He commissioned His Church to preach the good news to all creation and go make disciples of the nations (giving priority to the sacrament of immersion). But the discipleship was learn to do what he had commanded - in summary: Love the LORD your GOD; Love your neighbor as yourself; Love your enemy; Love everyone within the Church.

    Regular reminders from others to live this is a good thing. Thanks for the reminder. Our calendar has an interesting footnote for today: Christmas observed.

  2. Inspiring poem! Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Words from an esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky:

    "A wonderful word of appreciation for Howard Thurman, Leroy. Thank you for sharing this poem/meditation by him. One could hardly surpass it as a thought for the New Year."

  4. Loved it, Leroy, and glad you are flexible to not always have to post on days ending in five or zero! And glad to know the connection to MLK, Jr.

    PS — My calendar for the 26th says: Federal Holiday, Kwanzaa Begins, Boxing Day

  5. Thinking Friend Michael Willett Newheart, who is a New Testament professor at Howard University School of Divinity and currently in Africa, sent the following comments by e-mail (and I post them here with his permission):

    "Thanks for the Thurman poem. . . . Thurman remains a patron saint at Howard Div., where he was prof of theology (while Benjamin Mays served as dean) as well as Dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard in the '30s and '40s. He left HU to be founding co-pastor of the Church for All Peoples in San Francisco, the first intentionally multi-racial church in the US. From there he went to BU. The chapel at Howard Div. is named after him. Joy and I were married in that chapel in 1993.

    "I found out at the AAR that a documentary on his life is being produced, entitled, 'The Psalm of Howard Thurman,' which will be out late 2012.

    "A new book on Thurman has just been published: 'Visions of a Better world: Howard Thurman's Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence' . . . I checked it out just before leaving for Kenya, and I look forward to getting back to it when I return on Sat."

  6. Part of my advent has been waiting to get back on Leroy's blog, where Leroy frequently shows me a new side of familiar figures, and sometimes a whole new person, such as Thurman.

    I wonder if anyone with the right musical skills has tried putting a tune to the poem? I suspect it would make a moving folk song.