A Christmas meditation and prayer by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933); American author, educator, and Presbyterian clergyman
It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when folks agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a person to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity…
But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, ‘keeping Christmas.’ Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you?… to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world?… to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground?… to see that your fellow-men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy?… to realize that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life?… to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness?… are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can ‘keep Christmas.’
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.
Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world– stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death– and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.
And if you keep it for a day, why not always?
Romans 14:6a — He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.
Luke 2:10-14 — And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
I John 4:19 — We love because he first loved us.
“A CHRISTMAS PRAYER FOR LONELY FOLKS”
Lord God of the solitary, look upon me in my loneliness.
Since I may not keep this Christmas in the home, send it into my heart.
Let not my sins cloud me in,
But shine through them with forgiveness in the face of the child Jesus.
Put me in loving remembrance of the lowly lodging in the stable of Bethlehem,
The sorrows of the blessed Mary, the poverty and exile of the Prince of Peace.
For His sake, give me a cheerful courage to endure my lot,
And an inward comfort to sweeten it.
Purge my heart from hard and bitter thoughts.
Let no shadow of forgetting come between me and friends far away:
Bless them in their Christmas mirth:
Hedge me in with faithfulness,
That I may not grow unworthy to meet them again.
Give me good work to do,
That I may forget myself and find peace in doing it for Thee.
Though I am poor, send me to carry some gift to those who are poorer,
Some cheer to those who are more lonely.
Grant me the joy to do a kindness to one of Thy little ones:
Light my Christmas candle at the gladness of an innocent and grateful heart.
Strange is the path where Thou leadest me:
Let me not doubt Thy wisdom, nor lose Thy hand.
Make me sure that Eternal Love is revealed in Jesus, Thy dear Son,
To save us from sin and solitude and death.
Teach me that I am not alone,
But that many hearts, all round the world,
Join with me through the silence, while I pray in His name:
Our Father which art in heaven…