Carry the Holiday Forward

Pastoral Messages | January 11, 2024

Holidays are rarely just about a day. They’re not even really about a season. Holidays are about who we are and what we value. They bring those things into focus for a time so that we get our bearings again for all times. 

We know this about Christmas. How many times and in how many ways have you heard that Christmas isn’t just the day, or the celebration, or the season? It’s a familiar plot line in Christmas movies that the “true meaning of Christmas” only comes clear when a spirit of generosity and a devotion to relationships are kindled afresh in the heart. If those continue to burn within us, then God’s gift of Jesus and God’s presence with us in Jesus shapes who we are all year long. We may know all our Grinch-like shortcomings, but the holiday can inspire us to be different if we keep its essence close to us – even in February and August. 

The next holiday we celebrate is not Valentine’s Day, whatever our marketing mavens may have begun to foist on us already. But with Valentine’s Day, too, we could easily think about how the holiday is about who we are and what we value. Then it becomes clear how it can shape our lives in an ongoing and empowering way.  

In fact, the holiday we celebrate next is Martin Luther King., Jr., Day, inaugurated 40 years ago after a 15-year effort to gain Congressional approval. Some who opposed its creation argued that the country had never yet honored a private citizen with a public holiday. But King’s very public citizenship was hard to dispute, despite his never having held elective office. Moreover, like all holidays, the observance of his birthday is not just about him (who would have turned 95 this year) but about who we are as a nation and what we value. It is about how those things can shape us every day of the year. 

While we were exploring Christian nationalism in St. Paul summer learning last August, I came to a new understanding of one dimension of who we are as a country. It relates directly to what Dr. King saw more than a half-century ago. That is, we can think of ourselves as a country in recovery, the kind of recovery that works against dysfunctional patterns.  

There was a childhood trauma perpetrated on this land: nearly 250 years of cruelly abusive, violent, dehumanizing chattel slavery. Like all childhood trauma, it has created patterns and habits that are dysfunctional outside the world of its origins: social and economic structures, stereotypes, and fears. The dysfunction continues to cause harm and pain and deformed relationships in our own time, though we had nothing to do with the original trauma. We cannot undo the original trauma, but we can recognize and respond to the dysfunction that has resulted from it. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday observance reminds us of the dysfunction. It also encourages us to dream of a day when we can live beyond the dysfunctional patterns. 

Thirty years ago, the value embodied in this holiday was formalized, also by Congress, in the King Holiday and Service Act. It established MLK Jr. Day as the only federal holiday that is a national day of service, encouraging all Americans to do whatever is possible to move the country toward that day of which the Rev. Dr. King dreamed. His dream was powerfully shaped by the Christian faith that we share with him. The values of human dignity, equal regard, unbiased justice, and helping “the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters” are not unique to Christianity, but there is no Christianity without them. In this historic 40th year, I hope we can each find a way to carry Monday’s holiday into the weeks and months that follow, shaping our lives and our service by its values. 

-Peter A. Pettit, teaching pastor

One comment on “Carry the Holiday Forward”

  • Ken Winter

    January 11, 2024 at 2:28 pm

    Amen and Amen!!

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