A CHRISTMAS GREETING
“Good Will Toward Men”—St. Luke 11-14.
There was a time when the spirit of Christmas was of the present. There is a period when most of it is of the past. There shall come a day perhaps when all of it will be of the future. The child time, the present; the middle years, the past; old age, the future.
Come to my mind Christmas Days of long ago. As a boy again I enter into the spirit of the Christmas stockings hanging before my fire. I know what the children think to-day. I recall what they feel.
Passes childhood, and I look down the nearer years. There rise before me remembrances of Christmas Days on storm-tossed seas, where waves beat upon the ice-bound ship. I recall again the bitter touch of water-warping winter, of drifts of snow, of wind-swept plains. In the gamut of my remembrance I am once more in the poor, mean, lonely little sanctuary out on the prairie, with a handful of Christians, mostly women, gathered together in the freezing, draughty building. In later years I worship in the great cathedral church, ablaze with lights, verdant and fragrant with the evergreen pines, echoing with joyful carols and celestial harmonies. My recollections are of contrasts like those of life—joy and sadness, poverty and ease.
And the pictures are full of faces, many of which may be seen no more by earthly vision. I miss the clasp of vanished hands, I crave the sound of voices stilled. As we old and older grow, there is a note of sadness in our glee. Whether we will or not we must twine the cypress with the holly. The recollection of each passing year brings deeper regret. How many have gone from those circles that we recall when we were children? How many little feet that pattered upon the stair on Christmas morning now tread softer paths and walk in broader ways; sisters and brothers who used to come back from the far countries to the old home—alas, they cannot come from the farther country in which they now are, and perhaps, saddest thought of all, we would not wish them to come again. How many, with whom we joined hands around the Christmas tree, have gone?
Circles are broken, families are separated, loved ones are lost, but the old world sweeps on. Others come to take our places. As we stood at the knee of some unforgotten mother, so other children stand. As we listened to the story of the Christ Child from the lips of some grey old father, so other children listen and we ourselves perchance are fathers or mothers too. Other groups come to us for the deathless story. Little heads which recall vanished halcyon days of youth bend around another younger mother. Smaller hands than ours write letters to Santa Claus and hear the story, the sweetest story ever told, of the Baby who came to Mary and through her to all the daughters and sons of women on that winter night on the Bethlehem hills.
And we thank God for the children who take us out of the past, out of ourselves, away from recollections that weigh us down; the children that weave in the woof and warp of life when our own youth has passed, some of the buoyancy, the joy, the happiness of the present; the children in whose opening lives we turn hopefully to the future. We thank God at this Christmas season that it pleased Him to send His beloved Son to come to us as a little child, like any other child. We thank God that in the lesser sense we may see in every child who comes to-day another incarnation of divinity. We thank God for the portion of His Spirit with which He dowers every child of man, just as we thank Him for pouring it all upon the Infant in the Manger.
There is no age that has not had its prophet. No country, no people, but that has produced its leader. But did any of them ever before come as a little child? Did any of them begin to lead while yet in arms? Lodges there upon any other baby brow “the round and top of sovereignty?” What distinguished Christ and His Christian followers from all the world? Behold! no mighty monarch, but “a little child shall lead them!”
You may see through the glass darkly, you may not know or understand the blessedness of faith in Him as He would have you know it, but there is nothing that can dim the light that radiates from that birth in the rude cave back of the inn. Ah, it pierces through the darkness of that shrouding night. It shines to-day. Still sparkles the Star in the East. He is that Star.
There is nothing that can take from mankind—even doubting mankind—the spirit of Christ and the Christmas season. Our celebrations do not rest upon the conclusions of logic, or the demonstrations of philosophy; I would not even argue that they depend inevitably or absolutely upon the possession of a certain faith in Jesus, but we accept Christmas, nevertheless; we endeavour to apply the Christmas spirit, for just once in the year; it may be because we cannot, try as we may, crush out utterly and entirely the divinity that is in us that makes for God. The stories and tales for Christmas which have for their theme the hard heart softened are not mere fictions of the imagination. They rest upon an instinctive consciousness of a profound philosophic truth.
What is the unpardonable sin, I wonder? Is it to be persistently and forever unkind? Does it mean perhaps the absolute refusal to accept the principle of love which is indeed creation’s final law? The lessons of the Christmastide are so many; the appeals that now may be made to humanity crowd to the lips from full minds and fuller hearts. Might we not reduce them all to the explication of the underlying principle of God’s purpose to us, as expressed in those themic words of love with which angels and men greeted the advent of the Child on the first Christmas morning, “Good will toward men?”
Let us then show our good will toward men by doing good and bringing happiness to someone—if not to everyone—at this Christmas season. Put aside the memories of disappointments, of sorrows that have not vanished, of cares that still burden, and do good in spite of them because you would not dim the brightness of the present for any human heart with the shadows of old regrets. Do good because of a future which opens possibilities before you, for others, if not for yourselves.
Brethren, friends, all, let us make up our minds that we will be kindly affectioned one to another in our homes and out of them, on this approaching Christmas day. That the old debate, the ancient strife, the rankling recollection, the sharp contention, shall be put aside, that “envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness” shall be done away with. Let us forgive and forget; but if we cannot forget let us at least forgive. And so let there be peace between man and man at Christmas—a truce of God.
Let us pray that Love shall come as a little child to our households. That He shall be in our hearts and shall find His expression in all that we do or say on this birthday of goodness and cheer for the world. Then let us resolve that the spirit of the day shall be carried out through our lives, that as Christ did not come for an hour, but for a lifetime, we would fain become as little children on this day of days that we may begin a new life of good will to men.
Let us make this a new birthday of kindness and love that shall endure. That is a Christmas hope, a Christmas wish. Let us give to it the gracious expression of life among men.
Categories: English Literature