Let’s Keep ChristmasChristmas
My favorite holiday story is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Every year I hear the Grinch’s discovery that Christmas is not in the ribbons and boxes and bags and that Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. Christmas must come from a deeper place in our hearts.
Yet every Christmas, we get enamoured by the wrappings, the expectations of our experience of Christmas that often script how we act and what we do.
Peter Marshall’s beloved Christmas Eve sermon titled “Let’s Keep Christmas” came to me as a small gift book several years ago. Marshall was a Scottish immigrant who was Pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and Chaplain of the United States Senate.
I want to read my edited version of his sermon. Even though his words were written before his death in 1949, the message of Christmas is being open to the Spirit of peace, hope, joy, and love. In the memorable words of Peter Marshall, “Changes are everywhere.” Many institutions and customs that we once thought sacrosanct have gone by the board. Yet there are a few that abide, defying time and revolution.
The old message: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” is still the heart of Christmas. It can be nothing else.
And this message can neither be changed—nor quite forgotten although there are many things that tend to make us forget.
The idea of Santa Claus coming in a helicopter does not ring true…
I must confess that modernistic Christmas cards leave me cold…
I cannot appreciate any of the cute designs that leave out the traditional symbols of the star, the manger, the wise men on their camels…
There is no need to search for stories new and different.
There is only one after all—and no modern author can improve it: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’. ” We all feel the pressure of Christmas…
You think of friends and loved ones who are so hard to shop for. You can’t think of anything they need… Maybe there is nothing in the store they need…
What about love itself, and friendship, and consideration, and a helping hand, and a smile, and a prayer?
…These are the very things people need. We all need them.
…Have you been saying, “I can’t seem to feel the Christmas spirit this year?”
That’s too bad. As a confession of lack of faith, it is rather significant.
You are saying that you feel no joy that Jesus came into the world, you are confessing that His presence in the world is not a reality to you. Maybe you need all the more to read the Christmas story over again, need to sit down with the Gospel of Luke and think about it.
And then you will remember what Christmas means—the beginning of Christianity… the second chance for the world, the hope for peace, and the only way.
The promise that the angels sang is the most wonderful music the world has ever heard, “Peace on earth and good will toward men.”
It was not a pronouncement upon the state of the world then nor is it a reading of the international barometer of the present time, but a promise—God’s promise—of what one day will come to pass.
The years that are gone are graveyards in which all the persuasions of men have crumbled into dust.
If history has any voice, it is to say that all these ways of men lead nowhere.
There remains one way—The Way—untried, untested, unexplored fully. The way of Him who was born a Babe in Bethlehem.
In a world that seems not only to be changing, but even to be dissolving, there are some tens of millions of us who want Christmas to be the same… We long for the abiding goodwill which the season brings, believing in this ancient miracle of Christmas with its softening, sweetening influence to tug at our heart once again.
We want to hold on to the old customs and traditions because they strengthen our family ties, bind us to our friends, make us one with all mankind for whom the Child was born, and bring us back to the God who gave His only begotten Son, that “whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
So we will not “spend” Christmas, nor “observe” Christmas.
We will “keep” Christmas—keep it as it is… in all the loveliness of its ancient traditions.
May we keep it in our hearts, that we may be kept in its hope.
How do we intend to “keep” Christmas, with Jesus’ example to incarnate the message of Christmas: Peace on earth, good will toward all.