Thursday, December 23, 2010

When Christmas Comes

Only God could have thought of Christmas. Its beauty is beyond the wit of mortals, so simple in its sublimity, so homey, yet so heavenly. On a tapestry woven of stable straw and starlight it unveils a picture to soften and purify the heart and to bring us back from a wisdom that is not wise, because it is hard, unholy, and unhopeful. Man would have made this event a pageant, its stage directions as follows:
Array of Great ones
The Army marches by
Fanfare of trumpets
Enter the King!

Man-made pageants pass and fade, but God works in slower and more secret ways. He blows no trumpet; He rings no bell. He begins within, seeking His ends by quiet growth, and by a strange power men call weakness, a wisdom often mistaken for folly. Man has one answer to every problem - force; but that is not the way of God. He did not send an army to conquer the world; He sent a babe to make a woman cry. The divine method is different: Instead of noise and parade there was -
The crowded Inn
A Mother and a Babe
No cradle, just a manger
A man stunned by wonder
A wandering Star.

Such wisdom bends the knee; such beauty breaks the heart - and mends it. It is a scene to sanctify the world, as if to teach us that God enters the life of man by lowly doors, attended by starry ideals and simple shepherd sentiments - the birth of Jesus, just "one of the children of the year." The are wise men who bow at such a shrine, linking a far-off pilgrim star with the cradle of a little child. By such faith, men are truly wise, knowing that no hope is too high, no dream too holy to be fulfilled - even the hope and dream of "peace on earth among men of good-will."

. . . . . .

Must we admit that Christmas is only a fairy story, heart-woven and dream-spun, and that the gray shadows which life casts over us are the grim truth? Is it no more than a figment of fancy, tender and lovely, fragrant with old memories, enshrined in the love and armored with the wonder of child-hood - a day of make-believe tugging at our hearts, with the pull of playtime? ...

No, Christmas is both a fact and a faith; but even if it were only for a brief season of good-will, a holiday from our forgetfulness of others, or just a family festival, it would be welcome. At least it is a day of poetry in the midst of drab days of prose. ...

If man is a being in whom God can dwell, as Christmas affirms, if his soul may even be a cradle of the Eternal Love, then our highest social visions have hope of fulfillment. Then, indeed, we have not only a Divine Ally working with us, but also a hidden ally, potential and prophetic, in "the better angels of our nature," to which we do not appeal in vain. ...

For Christmas is the theology of a civilization yet to be. Like the early Christians, we must live in an air of expectancy, as of something immense, impending, of a profound change to take place. ... Men of spiritual awareness in all lands feel that a time has come in the history of man when he must take a step into a higher range of being, or else lose and slip back. ... To save his life he must reverse the old order of the brute, and assert the diviner law of love, not as a poetic faith, but as the actual basis of his life. Only so can our wounded world be lifted out of the shadow of strife and cruelty into the light of justice and joy. ...

Christmas is a prophetic day, looking not so much backward, as forward. It is a history of the future, of an order of life not yet attained, of a religion not yet realized. To our dull eyes it seems visionary; but to God it is a vision of a world yet to be. ...

God abides in a terrible patience
Unangered and unworn,
And still for the child that was taken
A child is born.

Over an armed camp, in a hard old Roman world, the song of the angels rang out, proclaiming "Peace on earth among men of good-will." How far off it must have seemed on that night! How far off it seems today! Yet it will come true. It is not a myth; it is not a mockery. Surviving ages of slaughter, it still haunts us, proving its immortality. It is not a mortal melody, but a divine symphony. Because it is far off we know that it is not our music, but was sent into the soul of man by One who is as far above us as the stars are above the mists.

It is a song out of the heart of God for a hungry world. It means much that we can hear it, despite gray fears and grim facts, forever singing above the din of strife; and, hearing it, take up its strain in the busy world of today. Not in our day, not in many days perhaps, but at last it will be fulfilled. The world will fill up with men of good-will who keep step with its music and live by its law - men who know that man was made for love, because God is love, and that love and joy must blend in the final note of the great world-song.

(Briefed from "When Will Christmas Come?" by Joseph Fort Newton, in The Atlantic Monthly, December 1925. Used by permission of the author and publishers. Reprinted in "Christ and the Fine Arts" by Cynthia Pearl Maus, Harper and Brothers Publishers, London and New York, 1938, page 48-50.)

contributed by Jeremy

1 comment:

  1. On a tapestry woven of stable straw and starlight. . .oh! This is truly a gentle and secret way. I love this. Thank you Jeremy.