The kindness of Christmas is the kindness of Christ. To know that God so loved us as to give us His Son for our dearest Brother, has brought human affection to its highest tide on the day of that Brothers birth. If God so loved us, how can we help loving one another?
Heathenism had proved unequal to the wants of men; and it was when the most thoughtful among the Pagans were turned away from its hollow mockeries and misleading altars that the anthem of the angels broke clear and loud above the slopes of Bethlehem: Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth and good will toward men!
To-day the whole Christian world prostrates itself in adoration around the crib of Bethlehem and rehearses in accents of love a history which precedes all time and will endure throughout eternity. As if by an instinct of our higher, spiritual nature, there well up from the depths of our hearts, emotions which challenge the power of human expression. We seem to be lifted out of the sphere of natural endeavor to put on a new life and to stretch forward in desire to a blessedness which, though not palpable, is eminently real.
To realize this purposeto change humanity, to triumph over evil, and to honor the Father by a union never to be broken of the Father and the many sons who should be brought unto glorythis was the thought which filled the mind of Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of Christmas; and as we love God with soul and mind and strength, and prove our divine sonship by good will and kindness toward all our fellow-men, we shall realize the divine idea of our Master and unite in His blessed work.
In the past, Christ was, in the genealogies, stepping Bethlehemward. Every time a new descendant in the covenant-line was born, the voice of prophecy shouted: Christ is coming! As ancestor was added to ancestor, the voice waxed louder and louder. Thus the shout was repeated and repeated until at last the angels and the magi and the shepherds and the watchers in the Temple answered back that shout with the gladder and louder shout, Christ has come! That is the Christmas shout which to-day Church of God throws to Church, of God all through Christendom.
We therefore welcome our Christmas in December. The worship of Christ could not have a better setting than amid the domestic festivities, social forces, and generous and man helping deeds of our merry Christmas-tide. In no more fitting way can we say farewell to the closing year, and All hail! to the new. Christ is born. We therefore must put off the old manhis moroseness and selfishness, his sadness and despair, his peevishness and fretfulness, his feebleness and decayand put on the new man, which, after Christ, is created in true joy, large faith, energetic service, lowly duty, devout obedience, and death-daring self-sacrifice.
God framed the history of the world in view of the coming of Jesus Christ. In the very beginning He chose a family whose line of descent should run directly from Eden to Bethlehem. This family God took into covenant with Himself, and the promise of the covenant was that of its seed Christ should be born in the fulness of time. This covenant-line runs through the Whole of the Old Testament as the golden thread runs through the beautiful fabric. Everything centres in this covenant-line. It unifies the Old Testament. It is the cord upon which the pearls of history are strung. Keep this in mind, and it will explain a thousand mysteries and perplexities in reading the Old Testament.
It is the most human and kindly of seasons, as fully penetrated and irradiated with the feeling of human brotherhood, which is the essential spirit of Christianity, as the month of June with sunshine and the balmy breath of roses.
Blessed be God for His unspeakable gift. We need Him. Souls desire Him as the hart panteth after the water brooks. He came to the world in the fullness of time. He comes at this advent season to us. To-day may be for some soul here the fullness of time. Let us open the gates and admit Him, that this Christ may be our Christ forever; that living with Him and dying with Him, we may also be glorified together with Him.
But now the Prince of Peace has comeHe of whom it was said that in His days there shall be abundance of peace. Now mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Now old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new; and all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.
The herald angels are singing still, and we hear their Peace on earth, good will to men, once more, as we have often done. What can we do but answer back in glad strains: Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace? It is His presence that fills our homes with mirth and song. If he will come again, turning lifes water into wine, touching our sick that they may be healed, cleansing, pardoning, blessing us allas He will if we make room for Himthen, indeed, we must be glad.
The universal joy of Christmas is certainly wonderful. We ring the bells when princes are born, or toll a mournful dirge when great men pass away. Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life. Only Jesus of Nazareth claims this world-wide, undying remembrance. You cannot cut Christmas out of the Calendar, nor out of the heart of the world.
If we were to fancy a wholly Christianized world, it would be a world inspired by the spirit of Christmasa bright, friendly, beneficent, generous, sympathetic, mutually helpful world. A man who is habitually mean, selfish, narrow, is a man without Christmas in his soul. Let us cling to Christmas all the more as a day of the spirit which in every age some souls have believed to be the possible spirit of human society. The earnest faith and untiring endeavor which see in Christmas a forecast are more truly Christian, surely, than the pleasant cynicism of Atheists, etc., which smiles upon it as the festival of a futile hope. Meanwhile we may reflect that from good natured hopelessness to a Christmas world may not be farther than from star dust to a solar system.
We see Jesus in the manger. We adore Him; we worship Him; we glorify Him. We stand oppressed before such lovea love stronger than deatha love so strong that it did die that we might live. We thank Thee for the sweetness of human love, but how could we ever have dared to think that such love was in the heart of God for us! We look on nature and see Thy beauty and Thy majesty, but we are afraid, for we have sinned. And then we learn that Thou has sent Thy Son, to be bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh; and before such inconceivable love we can only worship and adore. We are so weary of our failures and our slow growth toward Thee. Cleanse us deeply from sin, strengthen our moral purposes.
The lovely legends of the day; the stories and the songs and the half-fairy lore that gather around it; the ancient traditions of dusky woods and mystic rites; the magnificence or simplicity of Christian observance, from the pope in his triple tiara, borne upon his portative throne in gorgeous state to celebrate pontifical high mass at the great altar of St. Peters, to George Herbert humbly kneeling in his rustic church at Bemerton, or to the bare service in some missionary chapel upon the American frontier; the lighting of Christmas trees and hanging up of Christmas stockings, the profuse giving, the happy family meetings, the dinner, the game, the dancethey are all the natural signs and symbols, the flower and fruit, of Christmas. For Christmas is the day of days which declares the universal human consciousness that peace on earth comes only from good will to men.
The whole air at the first Christmastide was tremulous with joy. It was a time for holy song, for inspired pæan, for seraphic song. Let joy come still to our homes and hearts. Christ gives brightness and beauty, gladness and glory, to the whole circle of life and duty. Come, Lord Jesus, there shall be room for Thee in our homes. Once there was none in the inn, but only in the stable; now our best is Thine. Only honor us with Thy beneficent presence. Let us away with strife at this season; now is the time to speak kindly words. Let us not carry into the new year the enmities of the old; let not the harsh notes of contention come into the heavenly song of peace. Christ came to give peace, and from Heavens throne to-day He bends to give peace to all who trust Him. He was the only person ever born into the world who had His choice as to how He should come. He might have come man, as did the first Adam; He came a babe. He inserted Himself into our race at its lowest and weakest point. If He were to lift the race He must get under it. He glorified the cradle; He beautified boyhood; He sanctified motherhood.
For us, however, in these northern climes, and with our traditions and associations, Christmas could not well be better placed than where it is. Nature is in slumber, as if in deathfit picture of the sleep of man till roused to righteousness by the voice of the new-born Babe of Bethlehem. Life is at its lowest, and death reigns, or seems to reign, everywhere. Saving the thick-berried holly, the mistletoe, dear to Druid priests, the laurel, and the yew, the trees are bared, and the warblers of the sky avoid their desolate branches. We are driven inward. The fireside is the centre of a thousand charms. Home is clothed in its most beautiful garments. We are forced to the conclusion that we need other help than Mother Earth can give us. Our hearts open instinctively to heaven and its message, and with willing feet we haste to do the will of Him Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor.
Christians, stand at Bethlehem and open every door and window of your being Christward. Look backward. Look forward. Magnify Bethlehem. Recount to your souls the things for which it stands. It stands for the fulness of time. It stands for the fulfilment of glorious predictions. It stands for the realization of those burning hopes which made the heroic men of the past. It stands for the coming of the Son of God Himself into our nature. It stands for the glorious past and for the more glorious future. As the dawn carries in it the full day, it carries in it the salvation of man, and the triumph of the right over the wrong, and the coming millennial glory of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. When we comprehend the backward and forward reach of Bethlehem, we do not wonder that all that is grand crowds around the Cradle-Manger. It is worthy of all. Let the Star shine. Let the Magi give gifts. Let the Shepherds worship. Let the angel-faces flash out from the great dome overhead. Let the church-bells chime. Let the sacred harps and organs respond to the masterhand that sweeps their strings and flies over their keys, and let them turn the common air into praise. Let Christmas carols roll over this wide earth, and echo among the stars. Let the great universe of God jubilate. Let everything in Heaven and earth shout, Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the Highest. While all this takes place, see to it, O my soul, that thou carriest thyself to Bethlehem, to receive, and to love, and to trust, and to worship. Be thou certainly there; and while there recognize Christ, honor Christ, reincarnate Christ, and call Christ God.
Never deny the babies their Christmas! It is the shining seal set upon a year of happiness. Let them believe in Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, or Kriss Kringle, or whatever name the jolly Dutch saint bears in your religion.
I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from thatas a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.
The death of Christ is a great mystery; but His birth is even a greater. That He should live a human life at all, is stranger than that, so living, He should die a human death. I can scarce get past His cradle in my wondering, to wonder at His cross. The infant Jesus is, in some views, a greater marvel than Jesus with the purple robe and the crown of thorns.
The chief charm of Christmas is its simplicity. It is a festival that appeals to everyone, because every one can understand it. * * * A genuine fellowship pervades our common lifea fellowship whose source is our common share in the gift of the worlds greatest Life which was given to the whole world.