THERE was once a family who had a guest staying with them; and when they found out that he was to have a birthday during his visit they were all delighted at the idea of celebrating it. Days before — almost weeks before — they began to prepare for the celebration. They cooked and stored a large quantity of good things to eat, and laid in a stock of good things to be cooked and prepared on the happy day. They planned and arranged the most beautiful decorations. They even thought over and made, or selected, little gifts for one another; and the whole house was in hurry and confusion for weeks before the birthday came. Everything else that was to be done was postponed until after the birthday; and, indeed, many important things were neglected.
Finally the birthday came, the rooms were all decorated, the table set, all the little gifts arranged, and the guests from outside of the house had all arrived. Just after the festivities had begun a little child said to its mother: “Mamma, where is the man whose birthday it is…
“Hush, hush,” the mother said, “”don’t ask questions.”
But the child persisted, until finally the mother said: “Well, I am sure I do not know, my dear, but I will ask.”
She asked her neighbor, and the neighbor looked surprised and a little puzzled.
“Why,” she said, “it is a celebration, we are celebrating his birthday, and he is a guest in the house.”
Then the mother got interested and curious herself.
“But where is the guest? Where is the man whose birthday it is?” And, this time she asked one of the family. He looked startled at first, and then inquired of the rest of the family.
“Where is the guest whose birthday it is?” Alas I nobody knew. There they were, all excited and trying to enjoy themselves by celebrating his birthday, and he, — some of them did not even know who he was! He was left out and forgotten!
When they had wondered for a little while they immediately forgot again, and went on with their celebrations, — all except the little child. He slipped out of the room and made up his mind to find the man whose birthday it was, and, finally, after a hard search, he found him upstairs in the attic, — lonely and sick.
He had been asked to leave the guestroom, which he had occupied, and to move upstairs, so as to be out of the way of the preparations for his birthday. Here he had fallen ill, and no one had had time to think of him, excepting one of the humbler servants and this little child. They had all been so busy preparing for his birthday festival that they had forgotten him entirely.
This is the way it is with most of us at Christmas time.
Whenever we think of a friend, or even an acquaintance, we think of his various qualities, — not always in detail, but as forming a general impression which we associate with his name. If it is a friend whom we love and admire, we love, especially on his birthday, to dwell on all that is good and true in his character; and at such times, though he may be miles away in body, we find ourselves living with him every hour of the day, and feel his presence, and, from that feeling, do our daily tasks with the greater satisfaction and joy.
Every one in this part of the world, of course, knows whose birthday we celebrate on the twenty-fifth of December. if we imagine that such a man never really existed, that he was simply an ideal character, and nothing more, — if we were to take Christmas Day as the festival of a noble myth, — the ideal which it represents is so clear, so true, so absolutely practical in the way it is recorded in the book of his life, that it would be a most helpful joy to reflect upon it, and to try and apply its beautiful lessons on the day which would especially recall it to our minds.
Or, let us suppose that such a man really did exist, — a man whose character was transcendently clear and true, quiet, steady, and strong, — a man who was full of warm and tender love for all, — who was constantly doing good to others without the slightest display or self-assertion, — a man who was simple and humble., — who looked the whole world in the face and did what was right, — even though the whole respectable world of his day disapproved of him, and even though this same world attested in the most emphatic manner that he was doing what was dangerous and wicked, — a man with spiritual sight so keen that it was far above and beyond any mere intellectual power, — a sight compared to which, what is commonly known as intellectual keenness is., indeed, as darkness unto light; a man with a loving consideration for others so true and tender that its life was felt by those who merely touched the hem of his garment. Suppose we knew that such a man really did live in this world, and that the record of his life and teachings constitute the most valuable heritage of our race, — what new life it would give us to think of him, especially on his birthday, — to live over, so far as we were able, his qualities as we knew them; and to gain, as a result, new clearness for our own everyday lives. The better we knew the man, the more clearly we could think of him, and the more full our thoughts would be of living, practical suggestions for daily work.
But now just think what it would mean to us if we really knew that this humble, loving man were the Creator of the universe — the very God — who took upon Himself our human nature with all its hereditary imperfections; and, in that human nature met and conquered every temptation that ever was, or ever could be possible to man; thus — by self-conquest — receiving all the divine qualities into his human nature, and bringing them into this world within reach of the hearts and minds of all men, to give light and warmth to their lives, and to enable them to serve each other; — if we could take this view of the man’s life and work, with what quiet reverence and joy should we celebrate the twenty-fifth of December as a day set apart to celebrate His birth into the world!
If we ourselves loved a truthful, quiet way of living better than any other way, how would we feel to see our friends preparing to celebrate our birthday with strain, anxiety, and confusion? If we valued a loving consideration for others more than anything else in the world, how would it affect us to see our friends preparing for the festival with a forced sense of the conventional necessity for giving? Who gives himself with his gift feeds three, Himself, his hungry neighbor, and Me.”
That spirit should be in every Christmas gift throughout Christendom. The most thoughtless man or woman would recognize the truth if they could look at it quietly with due regard for the real meaning of the day. But after having heard and assented to the truth, the thoughtless people would, from force of habit, go on with the same rush and strain.
It is comparatively easy to recognize the truth, but it is quite another thing to habitually recognize your own disobedience to it, and compel yourself to shun that disobedience, and so habitually to obey, — and to obey it is our only means of treating the truth with real respect. When you ask a man, about holiday time, how his wife is, not uncommonly he will say: “Oh, she is all tired out getting ready for Christmas.”
And how often we hear the boast: “I had one hundred Christmas presents to buy, and I am completely worn out with the work of it.”
And these very women who are tired and strained with the Christmas work, “put on an expression ” and talk with emotion of the beauty of Christmas, and the joy there is in the “Christmas feeling.”
Just so every one at the birthday party of the absent guest exclaimed with delight at all the pleasures provided, although the essential spirit of the occasion contradicted directly the qualities of the man whose birthday it was supposed to honor.
How often we may hear women in the railway cars talking over their Christmas shopping: “I got so and so for James, that will do for him, don’t you think so?”
And, when her companion answers in the affirmative, she gives a sigh of relief, as if to say, now he is off my mind!
Poor woman, she does not know what it means to give herself with her gift. She is missing one of the essentials of the true joy of Christmas Day. Indeed, if all her gifts are given in that spirit, she is directly contradicting the true spirit of the day. How many of us are unconsciously doing the same thing because of our -habit of regarding Christmas gifts as a matter of conventional obligation.
If we get the spirit of giving because of Him whose birthday it is, we shall love to give, and our hearts will go out with our gifts, — and every gift, whether great or small, will be a thoughtful message of love from one to another. There are now many people, of course, who have this true spirit of Christmas giving, and they are the people who most earnestly wish that they had more. Then there are many more who do not know the spirit of a truly thoughtful gift, but would be glad to know it, if it could once be brought to their attention.
We cannot give in a truly loving spirit if we give in order that we may receive.
We cannot give truly in the spirit of Christmas if we rush and hurry, and feel strained and anxious about our gifts.
We cannot give truly if we give more than we can afford.
People have been known to give nothing, because they could not give something expensive; they have been known to give nothing in order to avoid the trouble of careful and appropriate selection: but to refrain from giving for such reasons is as much against the true spirit of Christmas as is the hurried, excited gift-making of conventionality.
Even now there is joy in the Christmas time, in spite of the rush and hurry and selfishness, and the spirit of those who keep the joy alive by remembering whose birthday it is, serves as leaven all over the world.
First let us remember what Christmas stands for, and then let us try to realize the qualities of the great personality which gave the day its meaning and significance, let us honor them truly in all our celebrations. If we do this, we shall at the same time be truly honoring the qualities, and respecting the needs of every friend to whom we give, and our gifts, whether great or small. will be full of the spirit of discriminating affection. Let us realize that in order to give truly, we must give soberly and quietly, and let us take an hour or more by ourselves to think over our gifts before we begin to buy or to make them. If we do that the helpful thoughts are sure to come, and new life will come with them.
A wise man has described the difference between heaven and hell by saying that in heaven, every one wants to give all that he has to every one else, and that in hell, every one wants to take away from others all they have. It is the spirit of heaven that belongs to Christmas.