Here is a Christmas sermon by a quiet and godly man who preferred to preach with his pen.
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So Christmas Comes
By Orrin Root
Editor, Bible School Literature,
The Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, O.;
December 24, 1949; p. 11
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark street shineth
The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.”
Still indeed must have been the little town of Bethlehem in the depths of that night long ago—that night when in its dark street shone the everlasting light that enshrined the city of David forever in sacred memory. But before the evening shadows fell over its dusty streets, the little town was far from quiet. It was astir with unaccustomed activity—a busy city in a busy land. Always the crossroads of the world, the ancient land of David in the days just before Christmas was the meeting place of forces vast and powerful.
Opening our Bible to the well-worn pages of the Christmas story, we are reminded of the power of government, for it was the decree of Caesar Augustus that brought Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to a Bethlehem so filled that their only shelter was a stable. There are those who say the march of ages has not even yet produced another government so perfect as that of Rome, the empire which ruled the world in those days and through the centuries that followed—ruled so competently that it had no serious opposition until at last in ease and luxury it decayed within. Under the providence of God, that mighty empire helped to prepare the world for Christmas. With firm hand it established and kept peace and order throughout a vast domain, making easier the task of heralding abroad the glad tidings that the desire of nations had come.
But though Caesar’s decree brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the power of government could not bring Christmas. In fact, the government . . . tried to destroy Christmas by killing the Christmas Child. But if government could not bring Christmas, government was equally powerless to stop its coming. Herod tried to kill the newborn King, and thought he had succeeded; but God’s angel sent God’s Son beyond the reach of danger. Pilate also tried to kill the Christmas Child when He had grown to holy manhood, and Pilate, too, thought he had succeeded; but an angel from on high rolled hack the stone and said, “He is not here.” Now Herod is dead, and Pilate is dead, and even Rome, as the seat of empire, is dead. But the Child of Christmas is living and ruling at the right hand of the Father, and His Word is living and active, and His church is living in defiance of the gates of Hades—and so Christmas lives.
In our time government again is increasing its functions and its importance. Gradually we are surrendering our once-cherished freedoms for a promise of security. But let us know certainly that government can not bring Christmas. Even if the fondest dreams of voters and the wildest promises of politicians were realized, . . . all these would be but the tinsel on a tree or the toy that wears out in a day. . . .
But if government can not bring Christmas, neither can government stop its coming. Though the kings of earth oppose Him now, they will one day flee vainly to the rocks and mountains while the Saviour claims His own for their eternal home. And even now, in the midst of rulers that own Him not, Christ lives and rules in the lives of those that are His.
Had we been in Bethlehem in the days before Christmas, we would have noted the rising hum of business activity. A land at peace, yet maintaining an army in constant readiness, provided that brisk demand that assures prosperity. The mobile armies of Rome were vast buyers of consumer goods, and so were the throngs of worshipers who came to Jerusalem three times in the year. So, indeed, were the hordes of taxpayers returning to the homes of their ancestors for Caesar’s census.
Even Joseph and Mary must have swelled the volume of trade, buying food on their journey. But Christmas is not borne on wings of prosperity. The Child of Christmas came to a lowly manger and lived in “that despised Nazareth.” Grown to manhood, He had not where to lay His head; but He went about doing good and preaching good news to the poor.
But Christmas came. Though prosperity could not bring it, neither could prosperity stop its coming. When the Christmas Child grew to manhood, He clashed sharply with the prosperous corruption that defiled His Father’s house. With irresistible authority He purified the house of prayer, and so began the conflict that never ceased until the cross seemed to gain the victory for greed. But it was an empty triumph—as empty as the tomb on the first day of the week. Now the temple is gone and the priesthood is but a scattered remnant; while Jesus lives and Christmas goes on.
In our time, we need only walk the streets of any town to know that business is spurred by Christmas shopping. But that is not Christmas. Riches can not buy Christmas. In fact, the rich but rarely know that peace on earth that resounded in the angels’ carol. But not all the wealth of earth can stop the keeping of Christmas in grateful hearts, nor delay for an instant that great Christmas day when the Child of Bethlehem shall be revealed as King of heaven and earth.
Had we been on the road to Bethlehem in the days before Christmas, we must have noted that many were running to and fro. Roads built for military use were equally good for the travelers of commerce and culture. Far places exchanged their treasures, sending forth caravans by land and argosies by sea. World knowledge grew, and perhaps world friendship.
But the boldest adventurer to the remotest land could not find and bring home Christmas; neither could the concord of peoples produce it. Ready travel might facilitate the coming of the Wise-men and the flight to Egypt, but Christmas was before either of these. It can not he brought by camel train nor by air transport—nor can we forever flee away from Christmas, though we take the wings of morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea. For the Child of Christmas, now enthroned above, will come again; and every eye shall see Him. He lives and rules in myriads of humble, believing hearts.
Had we been so minded in the days before Christmas, we might have turned from Bethlehem to Jerusalem or Tiberias, there to find rich palaces of pleasure. Gambling dives and night clubs are far from modern, and a star performer must have been that infamous girl whose dance won the head of a prophet from a drunken despot.
But in the riotous search for pleasure, Christmas was not to be found. On the other hand, all the seekers of worldly pleasure could not delay its coming. Herod killed John the Baptist, it is true; but not till his work was done. The same Herod threatened Jesus; but the Master also continued His work without faltering and laid down his life at the time and place He chose.
Tonight there is many a Roman feast, many a Salome on stage or night-club floor. Pleasure-mad hordes may find the palace of sin decorated with a lighted tree, may buy a devil’s brew under the name of Christmas cheer; but they find not Christmas. But neither can they stop its coming, with all their hideous desecration. The pure in heart keep Christmas still.
WHAT IS CHRISTMAS?
By this time it must be obvious to the most casual reader of this meditation that we are not using “Christmas” merely as a date on the calendar. Much less are we referring to a mass of customs and legends, beautiful or fantastic, which are our heritage from semi-paganism and medieval superstition. We are thinking of Christ in the world.
WHAT BRINGS CHRISTMAS?
What does bring Christmas? The power of government can not, though it be multiplied a thousand times. Christmas can not be bought with gold, it can not be found by the traveler abroad nor the pleasure-seeker at home. What does bring Christmas?
First, Christmas is brought by the gift of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Thus God loved, and thus He gave. Thus He gave to the world in a time when most of the world did not even know His name. Thus He gave in a time when the chosen race, knowing His name and holding it in such reverence that they would not even pronounce it, nevertheless turned His house into a den of robbers. Yet God commended his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That was the beginning of Christmas giving, and its true continuation gives to Him who so gave to us. It is a monstrous perversion that robs the great Giver to give to others, and a perversion even more monstrous that robs Him to indulge the greedy desires of self.
“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Highest, holiest, most precious, the Gift of God lay thus in the lowly manger where shepherds came to see. “Unto you,” the angel had said to them. Thus in the lowly manger and adored by lowly shepherds, the divine Child symbolized the everlasting good news that God’s gift is for all.
But even the gift of God can not bring Christmas by itself. Required also are receptive hearts of men. Of such there were a few before Christmas came. The great Gift came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But not all His own rejected Him. There were some who received Him, and to them He gave the right to become children of God.
There was Mary, wondering at the incredible message of Gabriel, but saying in all submission, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” There was Joseph, torn between justice and mercy, but promptly obedient to the heavenly message. There were shepherds, waiting as their godly forefathers had waited through the ever circling years for the Saviour, Christ the Lord. There were Wise-men with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, for even the rich can receive Christmas if they are wise enough to turn from Herod’s Jerusalem to lowly Bethlehem and lay their wealth at the feet of the Holy Babe. To these came Christmas, and to Simeon, and to Anna; and it comes today to the pure in heart who become as little children.
Whence comes Christmas? It can not be legislated nor bought; it can not be found in travel afar nor in the search for pleasure at home. Christmas is the gift of God to godly men—“men in whom he is well pleased.”
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift was given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlem,
Descend to us we pray,
Cast out our sin and enter in;
Be born in us today.
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The image of Jesus and Mary was painted by Correggio (1489?–1534); this grayscale version of that painting appeared in the book Correggio: A Collection of Fifteen Pictures and a Supposed Portrait of the painter, 1901; image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.