KEEP Christmas

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
~Charles Dickens

This has always been one of my favorite quotes, and as a Christian, I believe it is what our Heavenly Father would want us to do to honor His Son. Last night a friend, who exudes every definition of friendship, shared a story with me in her annual Christmas letter. It turns out that it is a sermon by Peter Marshall from 1952. It re-opened my eyes, touched my heart, and answered some questions I was having about gifts for others. It is the messge of Christmas that gets tangled up in bobbles and bows, trees and traffic.

I pass on the gift as I offer it now to you. My hope and prayer is that if you will take a few minutes to read it, your focus and your thoughts will be impacted and you will be uplifted in a worshipful way. As the angel said so many years ago, “I bring you good tidings of great JOY, which shall be to all people.”

Let’s Keep Christmas     ~ 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.  No interior decorator with a fondness for yellow or blue or chartreuse or prink could ever persuade me to forsake the Christmas colors of red and green.  I must confess that modernistic Christmas cards leave me cold.  I cannot appreciate the dogs and cats, the galloping horses and the ships in full sail, the ribald humor…or any of the cute designs that leave out the traditional symbols of the star…the manger…the wise men on their camels.  Angels there must be—but they need not be modernistic angels in evening dress with peroxide permanents or avant-garde hairdos.  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 until 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 approaching Christmas.  The traffic is terrible…You can’t find a parking space…The stores are crowded…Mob scenes make shopping a nightmare.  You are thinking about presents—wondering what in the world you can get for so-and-so.  You think of friends and loved ones who are so hard to shop for.  You can’t think of anything they need (which is rather strange when you take time to think of it).  Maybe there is nothing in a store that they need.  But what about some token of love—what about love itself…and friendship…and understanding…and consideration…and a helping hand…and a smile…and a prayer?  You can’t buy these things in any store, and these are the very things people need.  We all need them….Blessed will they be who receive them this Christmas or at any time.  Let’s not permit the rush to crowd Christmas out of our hearts…for that is where it belongs.  Christmas is not in the stores—but in the hearts of people.  Let’s not give way to cynicism and mutter that “Christmas has become commercialized.”  It never will be—unless you let it be.  Your Christmas is not commercialized, unless you have commercialized it.  Let’s not succumb to the sophistication that complains: “Christmas belongs only to the children.”  That shows that you have never understood Christmas at all, for the older you get, the more it means, if you know what it means.  Christmas, though forever young, grows old along with us.  Have you been saying, “I just 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 really 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.

I thank God for Christmas.  Would that it lasted all year.  For I have observed that on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day all the world is a better place, and men and women are more lovable.  Love itself seeps into every heart, and miracles happen.  When Christmas doesn’t make your heart swell up until it nearly bursts..and fill your eyes with tears…and make you all soft and warm inside…then you’ll know that something inside of you is dead.  We hope that there will be snow for Christmas.  Why?  It is not really important, but it is so nice, and old-fashioned, and appropriate, we think.  Isn’t it wonderful to think that nothing can really harm the joy of Christmas?  Although your Christmas tree decorations may include many new gadgets, such as lights with bubbles in them, it’s the old tree decorations that mean the most…the ones you save carefully from year to year…the crooked star that goes on the top of the tree…the ornaments that you’ve been so careful with.  And you’ll bring out the tiny manger, and the shed, and the little figures of the Holy Family, and arrange them lovingly on the mantel or in the middle of the dining room table.  And getting the tree will be a family event, with great excitement of the children…and there will be a closet into which you’ll forbid your husband to look, and he will be moving through the house mysteriously with bundles under his coat and you’ll pretend not to notice….  There will be the fragrance of cookies baking, spices, and fruit cake…and the warmth of the house shall be melodious with the lilting strains of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  And you’ll listen to the wonderful Christmas music on the radio or television.  Some of the songs will be modern—good enough music perhaps—but it will be the old carols, the lovely old Christmas hymns that will mean the most.  And forests of fir trees will march right into our living rooms.  There will be bells on our doors and holly wreaths in our windows….And we shall sweep the Noel skies for their brightest colors and festoon our homes with stars.  There will be a chubby stocking hung by the fireplace…and with finger to lip you will whisper and ask me to tiptoe, for a little tousled head is asleep and must not be awakened until after Santa has come.  And finally Christmas morning will come.  Don’t worry—you’ll be ready for it—You’ll catch the spirit all right, or it will catch you, which is even better.  And then you will remember what Christmas really 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 head.  “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 it is 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 millions of us who want Christmas to be the same…with the same old greeting “Merry Christmas” and no other.  We long for the abiding love among men of good will that the season brings…Because we believe in this ancient miracle of Christmas with its softening, sweetening influence to tug at our heart strings once again.  We want to hold onto 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 again to the God who gave His only begotten Son, that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

So we will not “spend” Christmas… or “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.

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