By J.R. Miller
To those everywhere who desire to let the love of Christ have its way in them; to those who are ready also to forget themselves and to make happiness for others; to those who want to do something to make the world brighter and sweeter, and a better place to live in--these pages are cheerfully dedicated.
"Life is an education in love." Hugh Black
Learning to love is a long lesson. It takes all of the longest life to learn it. The most inveterate obstacle in mastering the lesson--is SELF, which persists with an energy which nothing but divine grace can overcome! When no longer we seek our own, in any of our relations with others--we have learned to love. Until then we still need to stay in Christ's school.
"Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men on whom His favor rests." Luke 2:14
There were two parts in the song the angels sang the night Jesus was born. The first part, was an outburst of praise to God. "Glory to God in the highest!" God should always be put first. He should be first in our hearts, first in our love, first in our worship, first in our trust. It was fitting that the first note of the angels' song, should be to God. The great blessing of that night, was God's unspeakable gift to men, and to God--the highest honor should be raised. "Glory to God!" Before we begin our rejoicing at the Christmas time--we should bow reverently before God and praise him.
The second part of the angels' song, referred to the meaning of Christmas to this world, to the blessings it would bring to His people, to the change and transformation it would work. "On earth peace, good-will toward men."
We always have a part in making our own blessings. A friend wishes us a happy birthday. The wish is sincere and there is a great heart of love back of it. But nothing will come of it--unless we take it and make it real in our won life. God has most loving thoughts for us. He is always planning good for us. Yet God puts his good things into our hearts--only through our personal acceptance and appropriation of them by faith, and our assimilation of them in our conduct and character by obedience.
Christmas as a day in the calendar comes in its season, whatever our response may be. God sends it, like his sunshine and his rain, on the evil and the good, on the just and the unjust. But Christmas in its divine meaning will become real to us--only as it reenacts itself in our own experience.
Christmas is the gladdest of all the Christian festivals. It brings a great joy to all the earth. It is for all men. There is scarcely a home so lowly, in such neglect and poverty--but the Christmas spirit touches it with some little brightness, and the Christmas love carries into it a little breath of warmth, a thought of gentleness and kindness. There is scarcely a life so desolate, so cut off from companionships, so without the blessing of human love--but Christmas finds it with some tenderness, some sense of kinship and fellowship, some word of sympathy and cheer, some token of thought, something to brighten the dreariness, and soften the hardness. The day makes nearly every little child in the land happier. It is observed in nearly every home. Think of the millions of dollars that are spent in preparation, in buying gifts--from the simplest toys among the poor, to the most costly presents among the rich. There is no need to plead for the observance of Christmas. But there would seem to be need for serious thought about the real meaning of the day; and the way to make it--so as to get the most we can from it.
How did the world come to have a Christmas? God gave it to us. It was his gift. The story is told in the Now Testament. There is one great verse which tells how it came: "God so loved the world--that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish--but have everlasting life." Christmas thus began in the heart of God. The world did not ask for it--it was God's own thought. We love--because he first loved us. All the love that warms and brightens this old earth--was kindled from the one heavenly lamp that was lighted the first Christmas night. The Child that was born that first Christmas--was the Son of God. God so loved the world--that he gave his one and only Son.
Think of the beginning--how small it was. It was only a baby, a baby among the poor. Think where the baby was born--in a stable, with the cattle all about. Think where the baby slept its first sleep--in a little box, out of which the cattle ate their fodder. All the circumstances were lowly and humble on the earth side.
The first Christmas did not mean much in the world. Its influence did not reach out far. A little company of lowly shepherds, keeping their watch in the fields, were the only people outside who heard of the wonderful event, and came to look at the new-born Child. The first Christmas touched the shepherds with its wonder, and with its holy sentiment. But with this exception, the great world slept on that night--as if nothing was happening! The world does not know its greatest hours--nor mark its most stupendous events.
Within the lowly cattle-shed, where the Baby lay--there was nothing which at that time seemed unusual. There was no divine splendor, such as we would expect to see in the face of one who was the Son of God. The only light, was the shining of love in the peasant mother's face. When the shepherds came in, all that they saw was a newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger; and a quiet couple, Mary and Joseph, bending over it in tender love. Yet that was the beginning. It was a real Christmas.
There is a picture in the Dresden gallery of the Madonna, which represents the Child in the arms of the mother, surrounded by clouds. A closer view, however, shows that the clouds are myriads of angel faces, all turned toward the Holy Child. The picture is true. There must have been hosts of angels round the manger, every one turning his face with adoring wonder toward the infant Savior. It was a bit of heaven--let down to earth!
Think what the problem of Christmas was. The mission of the Christ-Child was to change the sin and sorrow of earth--into the holiness and the joy of heaven. Earth was very unlike heaven that night. It was a place of selfishness, of cruelty, of strife, of sin, of wrong, of oppression, of sorrow. Millions of men were slaves. There was depravity that reeked to heaven. Governments were tyrannous. Home meant but little. Here and there, a few praying souls thought of God, and a few men and women lived pure and gently lives. But the world was full of sin. Love--of course, there was natural love. Mothers loved their children, friend loved friend. But the great multitudes knew nothing of love, as we now understand the word. Love, Christian love, was born that first Christmas night. Love of God, God's own love, a spark of God's life--came down from heaven to earth when Jesus was born.
What was the problem? It was for this tiny spark of love to work its way out among men, among the nations--until all the life of the earth should be touched by it--changed, purified, sweetened, softened. This is part of what Jesus meant when he spoke of a woman putting a little morsel of leaven in a great mass of dough, that it might work its way through the whole lump. We have the problem stated in the words of angels' song, "On earth peace, and good-will toward men." That is what the coming of Christ to earth in human flesh was to do--to make peace and to put into all men's hearts good-will.
"Peace." This is a great word. As we read the New Testament, we find it used, for one thing, to denote the reconciliation of men to God. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Peace with God--enmity given up, will submitted, sins abandoned, and obedience to God made the law of life. To have this peace, is to be well advanced in the school of Christ. Jesus said that in wearing his yoke and learning of him--we shall find rest in our souls.
Peace means also peace with each other, peace among men. Remembering the late terrible Eastern war, it would seem that universal peace is still far away--an impracticable and impossible dream. Yet that was the problem of Christ's mission announced the first Christmas night, "peace on earth."
There is no doubt that the problem will be worked out in the end. One of the prophetic visions of the Messiah's reign, represents the peoples of the world beating their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks. Then we have this assurance, "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." A picture of peace, shows a cannon lying in a meadow, and a lamb nibbling grass at its mouth. The picture is not ideal, for the implement of war still exists, though unused.
The prophet's picture is better--the sword no longer a sword--but made into a plough-share, and emblem of husbandry; and the soldiers' spears hammered into pruning-hooks, which are used in dressing the vines. There are intimations that the day is not far distant, when war shall cease from the face of the earth and when differences between nations shall be settle by the arbitrations of love, and no longer by an appeal to battle.
"Good-will toward men." The best definition of these words is--LOVE. Jesus puts it, "As I have loved you--you should also love one another." To have good-will toward men, is to love all men--not merely those who love us--but those who do not love us. Someone said the best definition of the commandment of love to men he had ever seen, was given by a plain woman, "To love like God--is to love people we don't like!" It means also to love those who do not like us. It means to forgive--not three times, nor seven times--but seventy-seven times. Good-will to men, means not only charity toward all--but sincere interest in all men--the seeking of the highest good of every person.
Someone writes: "Cultivate kindness of heart; think well of your fellow-men; look with charity upon the shortcomings in their lives; do a good turn for them, as opportunity offers; and, finally, don't forget the kind word at the right time. How much such a word of kindness, encouragement, of appreciation means to others sometimes, and how little it costs us to give it!"
If we really have in our hearts good-will to men--we shall not only wish everyone well--but we shall seek every opportunity to do good to everyone! It will make us good neighbors, kind, obliging, ready always to lend a hand, to do another a good turn. When there is sickness or trouble in the home of a neighbor, we will show our sympathy by rendering any service that may be needed. Of a kindly man it was said, that he lived by the side of the road--that he might be among people and have an opportunity to help them. It is in practical ways that good-will to men shows itself. It does not wait to do large things--but heeds the calls of need as they come, however small they may be.
The problem of Christmas the night Jesus was born--was to set all this good-will to work in the world. A great deal has been done in these long Christian centuries, in the carrying out of this program. In Christian lands there is much that is very beautiful in the way the poor, the old, the blind, the orphan, the sick, and all unfortunate ones are cared for--and in the spirit of kindness and charity which prevails in society. All this has been brought about by the diffusion of the love of God among men. What marvelous changes have been wrought, may be seen be comparing Christian countries like England and America, with heathen lands like China and Africa. But the work is not yet finished. The whole world had not yet been transformed into the sweetness, purity, and beauty of heaven! Where most has been done--there still is much to do.
We may bring the subject closer home. What is our personal part in the making of Christmas? After all, that is the most important question for us. We cannot do any other one's part--and no other can do ours. Some people spend so much time looking after their neighbor's garden, that the weeds grow in their own and choke out the plants and flowers. What about the little patch of God's great world that is given to US to tend? If the problem of the church is to make Christmas is every part of the earth, one small portion belongs to everyone of us.
Each one should seek to make Christmas, first in his own heart and life. Christmas is Christlikeness. The life of heaven came down to earth in Jesus, and began in the lowly place where he was born.
"Love one another. As I have loved you--so you must love one another." John 13:34. Is there any measure of Christ's sweet, gentle, pure, quiet, humble love--in US? It ought to be a very practical matter! Some people understand what Christian love is--but fail in working love out in their disposition, conduct, and character. The kind of love a Christian needs is something that will show itself in deeds. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue--but in deed and in truth!" 1 John 3:18
Someone tells of seeing a little lame dog trying to climb up the curb from the street. But the poor creature could not quite reach the top--he would always fall back. A hundred people passed by and watched the dog, laughed at his efforts and failures, and went on. No one offered to help him. Then a working man came alone, a rather rough-looking man. He saw the dog and pitied him, and getting down on his knees beside the curb, he lifted the little creature up to the sidewalk, and then went quietly on. That man possessed the true spirit of love. That is what Christ would have done. Love is shown quite as unmistakably in the way a man treats a dog--as in the spirit he shows toward his own fellows.
A Christmas letter has this sentence, referring to some things that had not gone quite right: "There have been mistakes--but this is a good time of year to forget them." That is part of the teaching of Christmas--to forget the mistakes which others have made--to wipe off the slate, the records of any wrongs others may have done us, any injuries they may have inflicted on us. Someone tells of a certain tree in a tropical country which when struck and bruised, bleeds fragrant balsam. So it should be with us when others hurt us--smite us with unkindness--if we bleed, we should bleed love, not anger, not bitterness.
Christmas is a good day to forgive any who in any way have done us harm. Paul's counsel is not to let the sun do down upon our anger. Surely we should not let the sun of the Christmas Eve, go down on any feeling of anger or bitterness, any grudge or hatred, in our hearts! Everything that is unloving should be swept away as we pray, "Forgive us our debts--as we forgive our debtors."
We should not forget the word "peace," in our lesson. "Peace on earth." We should seek for the things which make for peace. It is easy to misunderstand others, even our dearest friends. One may hold a penny before his eye--so that it will shut out all the beautiful sky, all the blue and all the stars. It is easy, too, to make little offences grow large--as we brood over them, until, held up before our face--they hide whole fields of beauty and good in the lives of our friends! An unpleasant word is spoken thoughtlessly by someone, and we fret and vex ourselves over it, lying awake all night thinking of it, and by tomorrow it has grown into what seems an unpardonable wrong that our friend has committed against us! But Christ's way is different--he turns the other cheek. He forgives, he forgets, he blots out the record--and goes on loving just as before--as if nothing had happened!
The Christmas spirit teaches us to deal in the same way with those who injure us. Life is too short to mind such hurts, which ofttimes are as much woundings of our own pride or self-esteem--as real injuries to us. In any case, heavenly love ignores them. One says, "The hurts of friendship, of social life, of household familiarity--must be ignored, gotten over, forgotten--as are the hurts, the wounds, the bruises, the scratches of briers or thorns on our bodies!"
If we would make it really Christmas in our own hearts--we must learn to forget ourselves, and to think of others. We must stop keeping account of what we have done for other people--and begin to put down in place, what other people have done for us. We must cease thinking what others owe to us--and remember what we owe to them; and that we own Christ and the world, the best we have to give to life and love. We must give up chafing about our rights--and begin to rejoice in giving up our rights and doing our duties.
Someone says that the best thing about rights is that they are our own--and we can give them up. We must no longer sit on little thrones and expect people to show us honor, attention, and deference, and to bow down to us and serve us--but, instead, must get down into the lowly places of love and begin to serve others, even the lowliest, in the lowliest ways. That is the way our Master did.
We must make Christmas first in our own heart--before we can make it for any other. A grumpy person, a selfish person, a tyrannous and despotic person, an uncharitable, unforgiving person--cannot enter into the spirit of Christmas himself, and cannot add to the blessing of Christmas for his friends or neighbors. The day must begin within--in one's own heart. But it will not end there. We must be a maker of Christmas for others--or we cannot make a real Christmas for ourselves. We need the sharing of our joy--in order to gain its real possession. If we try to keep our Christmas all to ourselves, we will miss half its sweetness.
There would seem not to be any need at the Christmastide to say a word to urge people--to be kind to others and to do things for them. Everybody we meet at this season, carries an armful of mysterious bundles. For weeks before the happy day, the stores are thronged with people buying all sorts of gifts. To the homes of the poor--baskets by hundreds are sent, with their toys for the children. The spirit of giving is in the very air. Even the churl and the miser are generous and liberal, for the time. Everybody catches the spirit of giving, for once in the year.
But this is not the only way to do good, to help others. In a story, a good man says, "It's very hard to know how to help people when you can't send them blankets, or coal, or Christmas dinners." With many people, this is very true. They know of no way of helping others, except by giving them material things. Yet there are better ways of doing good--than by sending food or clothing. One may have no money to spend--and yet may be a liberal benefactor. We may help others by sympathy, by cheer, by encouragement.
A good woman when asked at Thanksgiving time for what she was most grateful, said that that which, above all other things, she was thankful for at the end of the year--was courage. She had been left with a family of children to care for--and the burden had been very heavy. Again and again she had been on the point of giving up in the despair of defeat. But through the cheer and encouragement received from a friend--she had been kept brave and strong through all the trying experience. Her courage had saved her. It is a great thing to be such an encourager--there is no other way in which we can help most people--better than by giving them courage. Without such inspiration, many people sink down in their struggles and fail. To many people--to far more than we think, life is very hard, and it is easy for them to faint along the way. What they need, however, is not to have the load lifted off, or to be taken out of the hard fight--but to be strengthened to go on victoriously. The help they need is not in temporal things--but in sympathy and heartening.
So far as we are told--Jesus never sent people blankets to keep them warm, or fuel for their fires, or Christmas dinners, or toys for the children. Yet there never was such a helper of others--as he was! He had the marvelous power of putting himself under people's loads--by putting himself into peoples lives. There is a tremendous power of helpfulness in true sympathy, and Jesus sympathized with all sorrow and all hardness of condition.
Jesus loved people--that was the great secret of his helpfulness. He felt men's sufferings. In all their afflictions, he was afflicted. One said, "If I were God, my heart would break with the sorrows of the world." He was blaming God for permitting such sufferings, such calamities, such troubles, as daily history records. He said God was cruel to look on in silence--and not put a stop to these terrible things. "If I were God, my heart would break over such anguish and pain as are in the world." He did not understand that that was just what the heart of Christ did--it broke with compassion, with love, with sorrow, over the world's woes! Thus he was enabled to become the world's Redeemer. He was a marvelous helper of others--not by giving material things--but by imparting spiritual help. Its is right to give gifts at Christmas--they do good, if they are carefully and wisely chosen and are given with the desire to do good. But let us seek to be helpers also in higher ways.
We can help greatly by being happiness makers. Someone says, "Blessed are the happiness makers. Blessed are those who remove friction, who make the courses of life smooth, and the fellowship of men gentle." There is far more need of this sort of help--than most of us imagine. We think most people are quite happy. We have no conception of the number of people about us who are lonely, and find their loneliness almost unbearable at such times as the Christmastide.
Perhaps nearly everyone of us knows at least one person who will have no home on next Christmas Day, but a dreary room in itself, it may be--but made more dreary by the absence of home's loved ones. You do not know what a blessing you may be to this homeless one--if you will in some way put a taste of home into his experience even for one hour on Christmas. Jesus has told us how near these lonely ones are to him. He knew what it was to have no place to go at the close of the day--when the people scattered off, everyone to his own house leaving him alone, with no invitation to anyone's hospitality and no place but the mountains to go for the night. Then he tells us, that if we open our door to a stranger and take him in--it is the same as if we had opened the door and taken in Jesus himself. He is pleased, therefore, when, in any loving way, we make Christmas a little less lonely for some homesick one.
A word may be said, too, to those who will be alone on Christmas, who are away from their homes, or have no longer any home. There is a way in which they can do much to make the day brighter for themselves. Though no taste or touch of human fellowship and friendship be their that day--they need not grow disheartened. George Macdonald says, "To be able to have the things we want--that is riches; but to be able to do without them--that is power." This is then the lesson of loneliness--to gain the victory over it.
One of the problems of life, is to live independently of circumstances and conditions. Paul said he had learned in whatever state he was, therein to be content. The secret was in himself. He carried in his own mind and heart--the resources he needed. No matter how bare his life was of comforts, or how full of trials and sufferings--the peace and joy within were not disturbed. It may not be easy for the lonely ones, lacking the companionship and fellowship of home and its happiness, to go through a Christmastide, as if nothing were lacking. Yet there is a way to overcome in great measure, the lack of fellowship. Much can be done by thinking of others who are lonely, and doing what we can to carry cheer to them. In doing this--we will forget our own lonely condition. Then we can turn our heart-hunger toward Christ--who is always willing to give us his joy. Here is a little prayer for lonely people, which some may find fitting for the Christmastide.
A Christmas Prayer for the Lonely
My Father, I miss the gladness which many of your other children are enjoying today. They have their homes and friends and happy fellowships, while I am alone. Yet may I have a joyous Christmas even without these bright things. Let me not envy those who have the blessings which I do not have. Save me from all bitter feeling, all complaining, all homesickness, and all unhappiness because of my circumstances. Help me to remember the loneliness of Jesus, who was born in poverty and found no welcome in this world, and to be as contented in my condition, as he was in his.
I pray for others who are lonely like myself, away from their homes; for the very poor to whom the day will bring but little gladness; for the children whose dream of Christmas has been disappointed; for the sick, the sorrowing, and the weary. In the great wave of good feeling which spreads everywhere today, may some touch of human kindness reach everyone of these heart-hungry ones.
Grant me the privilege of carrying a little Christmas gladness to some who but for me, would go unblessed. Lead me to one, at least, to whom a kindly word will be a blessing. Let me give cheer to one who is discouraged. Give me the privilege of making real to someone, the sweetness and warmth of the love of Christ.
So I pray, my Father, that this wondrous day may not pass without leaving something of its glad, loving spirit in my heart--and something of its quickening in my life. May I get a new vision of your divine love. May I be cleansed of the sin which has left its sad blots, on all my old year's pages. May I from today live more beautifully, less selfishly, less willfully, more helpfully--than ever before. May I find comfort hereafter for my loneliness, in closer companionship with Christ and in a life of love and service. Grant these blessings, I beseech you, in his precious name. Amen.
"Good-will toward men." Good-will means kindness, sympathy, love. It means that we shall have no bitter feeling toward anyone, no unkind thought, no dislike. This man who jostled against me today--is my bother. Perhaps it was as much my fault--as his. I may have put myself obstinately in his way. Most likely at least he did it unintentionally. Let me then forgive him--or even ask his pardon for being in the way when he stumbled.
We may read the Gospels to see how Jesus showed good-will to men, for he gave us the pattern for every beautiful thing he would have us do. A frown never came upon his face--when someone had been rude or unkind to him. Nothing ever caused him to show annoyance, however many things you were to disturb and vex him. The people were selfish and ill-mannered in pressing about him. They gave him no time to rest or to eat. They even broke in upon him--when he was at his private devotions. But his patience and kindness never failed. Nothing ever ruffled or interrupted his composure or irritated him in the slightest way. They told him that the woman at his feet was evil, that her character was stained, and that he should not let her touch him. But he continued his gracious kindness to her--as if she had been the best woman in the land. They hated and persecuted him, hurt and insulted him, spitting in his face, at last nailing him on the cross; but he went on loving, never complaining, never resisting, showing no resentment!
That is what good-will to men means. Can we learn the lesson? That is part of what our Christmas-making means. On Christmas Day, we feel "kindly affectioned" toward all the world. We would not do harm to anyone. We let nothing annoy or vex us. We try to keep our spirit sweet, even amid the most irritating experiences. We forgive those who have wronged us. We give up grudges and resentments. We are glad of any opportunity to be kind to those who have been unkind to us. The problem is to keep up this good-will tomorrow, to take it out with us into the life of the days after Christmas, and to keep on making Christmas wherever we go all the days of the new year. If we do all this--it will not take long to bring in the reign of love.
A prayer has been suggested appropriate for those who are lonely at the Christmastide. It seems fitting to suggest also a prayer for those who are happy in their own homes or in circles of friends.
A Prayer for Christmas Morning
On this Christmas Day, my Father, I come to you with a glad heart. Help me to observe the day fitly, with loving remembrance of the lowly birth in Bethlehem and the sorrows of him who came to bring redemption, and with grateful thanks to you for your great mercy.
May this be a true Christmas in my heart. Take away all unbelief, all bitter thought and feeling, all resentment and unforgiveness, all unholy desire--and give me love--love that is patient and kind, that is not provoked, that thinks no evil, that seeks not its own. Save me from all selfishness. While I gratefully receive the Christmas blessings and enjoy them--may my heart be opened toward all the world in sympathy and kindly interest. Make my life a song, and may I go everywhere with joy on my face and on my lips.
I pray for all those to whom Christmas brings gladness, that their joy may be enriched by thoughts of your divine love. I pray for the multitudes of little children everywhere, to whom the day means so much, who have been waiting for it so long in eager expectancy, and who will be happy with their gifts and with the love that blesses them.
I pray also for those to whom the day brings little of joy--the very poor, the lonely and solitary; those far away from their homes, whose hearts will not be warmed by human love; prisoners in their prisons; sailors on the sea; and those who know not you. I pray for the sick in their homes and in the hospitals, that in their suffering they may be comforted by the remembrance of your divine compassion. I pray for the bereft and sorrowing, to whom Christmas brings painful memories, making more real their sense of loss. May they find comfort in the thought of Christ's unfailing love.
May this glad Christmas leave my life richer and tenderer. May your divine love henceforth be more real to me. May I be sure of your divine care and guidance. May my heart be warmer toward my fellows, tenderer in its sympathy with human need and sorrow, and may I live a gentler, more kindly life--because of this day's revealing of your wondrous love. Grant these favors through Jesus Christ. Amen.