No doubt we would all agree: Christmas is much more than carols, cookies, and cards. The heart of this holiday goes even deeper than the love we express with presents. It is a celebration of God’s inexpressible gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).
And those of us who accept God’s gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus, ought to live our lives with overflowing gratitude. The motivation behind our words and deeds should be the same sacrificial love which motivated Jesus.
What might that look like in everyday life? Henry van Dyke* made several suggestions through these thought-provoking questions:
“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 foreground;
To own 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.”
Ouch. If God made these stipulations into law, and only law-abiders were allowed to celebrate Christmas, I’d be left out. My thoughts and motivations are not always pure. I do not consistently put others’ needs before my own. My focus is not always on what I can give.
But Rev. van Dyke’s essay does not end on that hopeless note. He adds one more glorious line.
“But you can never keep it alone.”
Of course not! “We are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us” (Romans 3:23, The Message).
However. God does not expect instantaneous perfection, the minute we invite Jesus into our lives. “God who began the good work within [us] will keep right on helping [us] grow in his grace until his task within [us] is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns” (Philippians 1:6, The Living Bible).
(Photo credit: www.worshipkids.com)
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,
Opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day.
(also by Henry van Dyke)
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*Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) was an author, educator, and clergyman. His lengthy list of accomplishments included professor of English literature at Princeton, minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg (by appointment of President Wilson), and author of many poems, stories, and essays. “The Other Wise Man” and “The First Christmas Tree.” are among his most popular works. He also wrote the lyrics for a number of hymns, including “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” The first verse is quoted above.