Making Christmas Minister to Adventist Ideals

FEATURES: Making Christmas Minister to Adventist Ideals

"Once more we are confronted with what to do with the most popular holiday of the calendar year."

Book Editor, Review and Herald

Once more we are confronted with what to do with the most popular holiday of the calendar year. Before we consider what to do with Christmas, it may be profitable to inquire what Christmas has done to us. We need not probe very far in our analysis to reach some uncomfortable conclusions. In the first place, the celebration of the holi day has become in most homes much too costly. Yielding to the commercialization of Christmas by those who stand to profit by oversentimentalizing the occasion, we have spent more and more on gifts, extended little by little our list of recipients, and become more lavish in our festivities. So great a burden has this become in many a home that savings banks suggest a running start on the annual parade of gifts by joining a Christmas savings club, the results of its accrued funds to be spread over our gratuities at year's end. When we saddle ourselves with such a fretful concern over a forthcoming holiday that we are kept perennially in mind of it, the occasion is costing us more than is warranted.

In the second place, the popular celebration of Christmas is destroying the pure virtue of gracious receiving. The exchange of gifts is too often a system of barter and reciprocity, a sort of face saving between the giver and the recipient. It sometimes descends to the sordid level of examining price tags to see how warmly we are regarded. God loves a cheerful giver, but one wonders how cheerful the giving is that is done with expectation of commensurate reward. God loves the grateful and cheerful receiver too, for gracious receiving makes glad the heart of the giver, but it is almost a lost art. When giving dictated by a popular social custom becomes a tax upon the affections, the gift has ceased to be the symbol of unfeigned love it ostensibly purports to be.

Again, the growing secularization of Christmas robs the holiday of its sweetest associations, as far as the Christian is concerned. Although Christmas never could be a holy day like the weekly Sabbath, because it is not the true anniversary of the Saviour's birth, nor a commanded memorial, most of us have been brought up in Christian homes, where the traditional observation of the day has had to do with the mystery of the Christ child and all the storied wonder of shepherds abiding in the fields, of a star in the sky, a babe lying in a manger, and angelic choirs singing over the hills of Bethlehem. And so year by year we kindle our hearth fires and light our Christmas tapers to capture anew something of the warmth of the tale that never grows old. There is surely nothing pagan in such a practice, for we are not exalting a calendar date or its secular associations, but memorializing a great event the incarnation.

If at this festive season of the year, then, we are moved to clothe the naked and feed the poor and minister to the suffering, we are indeed bringing gifts and honor to Christ as surely as did the Magi in the days of Herod the king. In view of this obvious truth, we need not be concerned over the question of whether or not we shall observe Christmas, but rather how we may make the colorful season minister to our love for the Saviour and impart a deeper love and reverence for Him in the minds of our children.

In the Review and Herald of December 9, 1884, Mrs. E. G. White, writing on the subject "Christmas Is Coming" (quoted in December MINISTRY, 1950), gives us counsel as to our attitude toward this popular day of celebration. After pointing out that the actual time of the Saviour's birth is lost in obscurity, she writes:

"As the twenty-fifth of December is observed to commemorate the birth of Christ, as the children have been instructed by precept and example that this was indeed a day of gladness and rejoicing, you will find it a difficult matter to pass over this period without giving it some attention. It can be made to serve a very good purpose."

The article then warns against letting the youth seek their own amusement in the pleasures of the world at such a time, and says that their activities should be controlled and directed into pure channels.

Continuing her instruction, the messenger of the Lord says:

"Youth cannot be made as sedate and grave as old age, the child as sober as the sire. While sinful amusements are condemned, as they should be, let parents, teachers, and guardians o£ youth provide in their stead innocent pleasures, which shall not taint or corrupt the morals. Do not bind down the young to rigid rules and restraints."

It was in this article that approval was given for placing evergreen trees in the church at Christmastime to delight the little ones, but especially to use the occasion to stress the privilege of bringing gifts for missions to hang on the tree. As an adaptation of that same idea, churches might bring the poor and underprivileged families of a community into the meeting and provide appropriate gifts to meet their needs. The practice would be a wonderful object lesson to children, showing how popular social seasons can be utilized to express our love for God in acts of charity.

If it is appropriate to erect a tree in a sanctuary of worship, is it not equally as appropriate to erect one in the home, and to make Christmas an occasion for reviewing together the wonderful meaning of Jesus' first advent into the world? Although beautiful ornaments are available for the tree at small cost, why not teach the children to make their own? Many happy hours prior to the season can be employed in gathering acorns, milkweed pods, and pine cones from the woods and spending an hour or two now and then painting them with gay colors, perhaps stringing some of them together in chains. Stars can be cut from silvered cardboard and shepherds and their sheep manufactured by nimble fingers. There is pure joy in such occupation, especially if the exercise is accompanied with happy little songs of the Saviour's birth.

Says the counsel from heaven: "Let the precious emblem 'evergreen,' suggest the holy work of God and His beneficence to us; and the loving heart-work will be to save other souls who are in darkness." Here, then, is a sound principle upon which all our celebration should be based. Whatever may be the symbols that we employ, the attention must be centered in Christ and what His coming to the world means to all of us.

Does this accent on showing our love for Christ in stories, songs, and exercises, the bringing of gifts for missions, and the pre paring of baskets for the poor preclude the exchange of gifts in the family? Only an ascetic extremist would say so. The pleasure of opening little gifts around the family tree at the close of a Christmas worship hour would only add to the happiness and cheer of the occasion. Our caution should be that we do not make the gifts lavish and expensive. Bibles, books, and educational games are always appropriate. In many a family, needed articles of clothing are gift wrapped and presented at this time. A savings account bankbook with an initial deposit will please older children.

A growing menace to our Christmas celebrations is the easy availability of children's toys. Too many children are surfeited with the wonder playthings of our modern day. I have been in homes in which the nursery and the toy box left nothing whatever to the imagination. In such homes a new toy created surprise and pleasure for only a day, sometimes for only an hour, because of the confusing multiplicity of things the children have to play with. It is wretched training to give to them so many things that their imagination is stultified. Many a rich little boy riding his Shetland pony is not nearly so happy as the child of the streets who has only a broomstick for a horse, and the reason is simple. The boy riding the stick is riding with imagination in an un fulfilled dream world, while the boy on the real horse is riding with the fulfillment of pride and vanity that do nothing helpful for his social relationships.

Children need to be taught to play constructively. During the national political conventions last summer, my grandchildren, kept indoors by rainy weather, were wishing I would turn the television on to something more interesting than the speeches I was listening to. I suggested to them that their toy animals might like to see this great historic occasion, when a Presidential nomination was televised for the first time. They caught on to the idea at once and began regimenting their panda bear, long-eared bunnies, dwarf burros, and barnyard fowl in solemn rows before the TV set. Soon I got as much merriment as they did as we looked at the unique audience gazing with mute but rapt attention at the perspiring orators in Chicago, and it provided a half hour of innocent activity and pure fun. Animal audiences for other occasions were the order of the day after that.

How can children grasp the meaning of Christmas symbolism when we put stars and angels at the top of a tree and toy cannon, toy soldiers, toy bombers, and other insignia of hate at the bottom? Can we consistently teach children about the coming of the Prince of peace with good will to men while we put into their Christmas packages replicas of the shooting irons of some desperado of the comic sheets? Let us not be stampeded by popular customs or commercial sales pressure to the following of any practice in the home that undermines the principles of Christian idealism. Thus lavish spending, intemperate feasting, un seemly hilarity would be ruled out as not becoming our profession.

What more appropriate time can we conceive than this yuletide season for the clearing of misunderstandings between families and between workers in the cause? "Peace, good will toward men" was the message of the angels over the Judean hills. That promised peace and good will are in a special sense the heritage and stewardship of the church. If alienation has come into the church circle to disrupt its organization as the arbiter of peace and spiritual idealism in a community, just now before we turn the pages of a new year should we not make a special effort to make confessions one to another, to make restitution where it is proper, and to face the world and our mission to the world with a united front? Jesus was God's Christmas gift of love to men. It is every worker's privilege to give himself to God at this season, so that He can give His Son once more to men.

So then, as with herdsmen and children, wise men and princes, who age on age have caroled the message of peace, we gather round a manger to sing once more the first Noel, may we realize that in contemplation of the Bethlehem cradle we are not minimizing the cross, that in singing our lullabies we have not forgotten our litanies, that in worshiping Him who came dressed in swaddling clothes, we have not lost reverence for Him and the days of His seam less dress of holy service. For in the midst of our rejoicing over the Bethlehem story we must remember that though it is better than all the birth tales of literature, though it has kept men on their knees in every century in adoration, though it has inspired great music, great thought, and great art, though it has put a new glory on mother hood, still the story of holy night is not a complete story, but only the initial event in a spiritual drama that was to unite two worlds, the world of the redeemed and of a universe unfallen.

Mark the words of God's inspired writer to His last-day church:

"Christmas is coming. May you all have wisdom to make it a precious season. Let the older church members unite, heart and soul, with their children in innocent amusement and recreation, in devising ways and means to show true respect to Jesus by bringing to Him gifts and offerings. . . . Let there be recorded in the heavenly books such a Christmas as has never yet been seen, because of the donations which shall be given for the sustaining of the work of God and the upbuilding of His kingdom." Review and Herald, Dec. 9, 1884.

Christmas may be a feast of love and light and fellowship as we look upon it as an occasion to exemplify the spirit of Him who gave all for our redemption.

"He gives to life the most who loves the most, 

For life is love in action, and the host 

Of heaven itself is server of the feast

The feast of light, where He who has released 

The greatest love becomes the honored guest, 

The inwardness of grace made manifest.



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Book Editor, Review and Herald

December 1952

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