If your home is like ours, the post-Christmas hangover is in fullswing. We spent most of yesterday (and by "we" I really mean "my wife") digging out from under all the boxes and bags and paper that managed to pile up in every imaginable nook and cranny. We cleared a path to the television first. Then we cleared a path to the fireplace. Then we actually got to where we could see the floor. It's amazing how much space wrapping paper can take up! One of my girls had a slight fever, so we spent a lot of time yesterday laying around and not doing very much. It was cold and damp most of the day, so there wasn't much of an opportunity to go outside and play. There were a few games learned. There was a new movie watched. There was lots of doing nothing. Believe it or not, there were few complaints about being bored.
There was, however, a slight sense of anticipation. Christmas is over, now what? What's next? When's the next big event?
I went out to the grocery store for some juice, and I found all the New Year's decorations up everywhere. Champagne and finger foods. Party hats and confetti. I guess that's what's next, and the world seems ready to move on now. Traffic was thick with post-holiday shoppers out trying to redeem gift cards or find that perfect item at the annual after-Christmas sale.
But I couldn't get into any of it. I'm not ready to leave behind Christmas just yet. It's like the feeling when you've eaten something wonderful right before bed. You're not ready to brush your teeth and banish the aftertaste just yet. You want to linger over the taste and texture for a few minutes more.
My mind went to something in the Christmas story I've never thought of before: the day after. The Bible is silent about what happens after Jesus is born. Nothing more is known except that he was circumcised on the eighth day and redeemed in the temple in Jerusalem sometime before the one-month anniversary of his birth. There are a lot of gaps there for one with a healthy imagination.
We know he was born. We know shepherds came to see him the night of his birth. I imagine they must have stayed in Bethlehem for a few days -- Mary was probably not in any condition to climb back onboard a donkey for the trip home to Nazareth. I guess Joseph would have spent some time trying to find them better accomodations. Perhaps he found some family where they could stay.
It was traditional for family and friends to gather round and sing and celebrate for most of the first-born son's birth week. They would slowly build towards the day of his circumcision -- the day on which he would be officially named as well. Then they would throw a big feast.
We don't know if anyone came to see the firstborn son of Mary and Joseph. The circumstances surrounding her pregnancy were suspect. Maybe the shepherds brought some of their friends. Maybe there were others who saw or heard the angels. Maybe Elizabeth came with her newborn son.
We just don't know.
What probably happened was something normal. Jesus' early life was remarkably normal. That's one of the reasons people didn't believe he was who he claimed to be. He was too much like the rest of us. His life smelled too mundane.
The day after Jesus' birth, Joseph probably cleaned up the cave. After all, two unprepared novices would have made something of a mess trying to bring their baby into this world. He would have gone looking for food. He may have gone in search of something suitable to dress the boy in. Perhaps Mary needed a change of clothes as well. He would have seen something of the same hustle-and-bustle I encountered yesterday. People on the go. People looking for deals. People moving about, searching for whatever comes next without realizing that something miraculous, something earth-shattering had happened.
As a society, we're not very good at the day after. We're too quick to tear down the decorations and move on to what's next. As soon as the champagne corks pop there will be people somewhere putting up Valentine's Day decorations. As soon as the Valentine cards are opened, there will be people somewhere putting up pictures of shamrocks and leprechauns.
St. Patrick's Day will give way to Easter. Easter will give way to Memorial Day. Memorial Day fades into The Fourth of July fades into Labor Day gives way to Halloween and Thanksgiving and we're back to Christmas before we know it.
But were we ever really at Christmas in the first place?
In our haste for what comes next, in our search for an answer to the never ending question ("Now What?") I wonder if we've missed what just happened.
I hope not.