Christmas Is Christlikeness
By J. R. Miller
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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. … Here and there a few praying souls thought of God, and a few men and women lived pure and gentle 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. Christina Rossetti puts it thus:
“Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
“Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for gift and plea and sign.”
This tiny spark of love was 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 world lump. We have the … words of angels’ song, “On earth peace, 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.
Jesus’ [birth] 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 that the poor, the old, the blind, the orphans, 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. … But the work is not yet finished. The whole world has 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 to 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 us to tend? If the [mission] of the church is to make Christmas on every part of the earth, one small portion belongs to every one 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. Is there any measure of that same sweet, gentle, pure, quiet, lowly life in us? It ought to be a very practical matter. Some people get the sentiment of love; but the love fails in its working out in their disposition, conduct, and character. The love of a Christian is something that will show itself in deeds.
Someone tells of seeing a little lame dog trying to climb up the curbstone from the street to the pavement. 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 along, 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. …
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 [instead remember] what other people have done for us. We must cease thinking what others owe us and remember what we owe them, and that we owe Christ and the world the best we have to give to life and love. … 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, we need to 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.
A book by a brilliant writer, about keeping Christmas, contains this paragraph, which is worth quoting: “Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front, so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings with the gate open—are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.”
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. Christmas 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. If we try to keep our Christmas all to ourselves, we will miss half its sweetness. …
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 save by giving them material things. Yet there are better ways of doing good than by sending a dinner, or clothing, or a picture for the wall, or silverware for the table. One may have no money to spend and yet may be a liberal benefactor. We may help others by sympathy, by cheer, by encouragement.
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 people’s lives. There is a tremendous power of helpfulness in true sympathy, and Jesus sympathized with all sorrow and all hardness of condition. He 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 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. It 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.
By J. R. Miller. Excerpts from Christmas Making, published by The University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1910. Read by Jon Marc.
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