Someone is coming who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals (Luke 3:16)
Taking down the decorations is always something of an anti-climax, isn’t it? Although people will say they should come down on 12th Night - no one seems to know whether that means the 5th or 6th of January, and now that we keep the feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday in the new year that doesn’t seem very relevant anyway. Most people seem to want to take their decorations down even before new year - and probably, let’s be practical, before they go back to work.
And it’s a Job. A necessary and important Job. But a Job nonetheless. A task to be performed, but done just because it has to be done. It's like washing up after Christmas Dinner, or tidying and cleaning house or hall after a party. Collecting pulled crackers and streamers, paper and crumbs. Just a necessary chore. No Joy and anticipation here.
After all - it’s over now. That’s the end of this joyful time. Now we return to work. We dont sing or here those comforting and cheery songs about chestnuts roasting by a open fire. We won't be ‘laughing through the snow’ now - but rather (if it ever comes) trudging through it - it's dark, dreary, wet. January is a depressing month. We are now very much ‘In the bleak midwinter’.
But there could not be a greater contrast in our moods with today’s Gospel and the celebration today. Perhaps it is too convenient for us to think that once the child is born and safe in his Mother’s arms that it is all over. Well every Mother, every parent knows that is not the case: Now - it has just begun!
Christmas to Epiphany is not an ending, but a beginning: “one is coming who is greater than I am” John the Baptist says. (Throughout this year of mercy we are reading through St Luke’s Gospel, and) Soon we will hear of Jesus’ miracles, of the call of his disciples, of the beginning of his preaching. We will hear of the excitement of the crowds, the controversy amongst the religious leaders, the anxieties of kings. We will hear of adulation and trepidation - of plaudits and of plots. We see what was present and worshipped in the crib unfold into a life lived for all of us - its teaching, its mystery, its sacrifice.
And there is one of the decorations which could stay with us a little longer, because it is no decoration, but a holy icon. [The crib will stay for a few weeks.] In the old English tradition, the crib would stay in the Church 40 days after Christmas, right until Candelmass, 2nd February, and no bad thing - after all the Kings have only just arrived - [why should we pack them away so soon].
The crib, if you like, is the acorn of the faith, the mustard seed. From something tiny and almost secret a great tree will emerge. The virgin and spouse speak to us of the power of love and prayer. The shepherds call us to humility. The kings beckon us to glory.
Yet Someone, something, very great, more powerful is about to emerge. We are not fit to undo the strap of his sandles.
The story has just begun ...