Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Let's Keep Christmas

I bought a book this summer at a thrift store entitled "The Best of Peter Marshall", that was compiled and edited by his wife Catherine Marshall. Peter Marshall came to America from Scotland when he was a boy. He eventually became pastor of Washington DC's historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and was chaplain of the US Senate in the late 1940's. His daily prayers were widely quoted in the press and senators sought him out as "their" pastor. He died of a heart attack at 46, and his widow Catherine compiiled many of his sermons, sayings and stories into several books which are all now considered Christian classics. Catherine Marshall has been with Guideposts for many years but I never knew much of Peter Marshall's work until reading this book. This little excerpt I am posting here is from his message 'Let's Keep Christmas', which "was heard for a quarter of a century over radio stations at Christmastime." You may have seen the movie about his life, A Man Called Peter, by 20th Century Fox...I have not, so I can not comment about its accuracy or content...but here is an abbreviated version of Peter Marshall's Christmas message.

Changes are everywhere.
Many institutions and customs that we once thought sacrosanct have gone by the board. Yet there are a few that abide, defying time and revolution.
The old message "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" is still the heart of Christmas.
It can be nothing else.
And this message can neither be changed-nor quite forgotten although there are many things that tend to make us forget.

The idea of Santa Claus coming in a helicopter does not ring true.
No interior decorator with a fondness for yellow or blue could ever persuade me to forsake the Christmas colors of red and green.

I must confess that modernistic Christmas cards leave me cold. I cannot appreciate the dogs and cats, the galloping horses, the ships in full sail, or any of the cute designs that leave out the traditional symbols of the star...the manger...the wise men on their camels. Angels there must be- but they need not be nodernistic angels in evening dress with peroxide permanents.

There is no need to search for stories new and different. There is only one after all- and no modern author can improve it.

We all feel the pressure of approaching Christmas. The traffic is terrible. You can't find a parking space, the stores are crowded, mob scenes make shopping a nightmare. You are thinking about presents- wondering what in the world you can get for so-and-so. You can't think of anything they need (which is rather strange when you take time to think of it).

Maybe there is nothing in a store that they need. But what about some token of love- what about love itself, and friendship, and understanding, and consideration, and a helping hand, and a smile, and a prayer? You can't buy these things in any store, and there are the very things people need.

Let's not permit the crowds and the rush to crowd Christmas out of our hearts, for that is where it belongs. Christmas is not in the stores, but in the hearts of people.

Let's not give way to cynicism and mutter that "Christmas has become commercialized." It never will be - unless you let it be. Let's not succomb to the sophistication that complains, "Christmas belongs only to the children." That shows that you have never understood Christmas at all, for the older you get, the more it means, if you know what it means.

Have you been saying, "I just can't seem to feel the Christmas spirit this year"? That's too bad. As a confession of lack of faith, it is rather significant. You are saying that you feel no joy that Jesus came into the world...You are confessing that His presence in the world is not a reality to you...Maybe you need all the more to read the Christmas story over again...sit down with Gospel of Luke and think about it.

We hope that there will be snow for Christmas. Why? It is not really important, but it is so nice, and old-fashioned, and appropriate, we think. There will be the fragrance of baking, and the warmth of the house, melodious with the strains of "Silent night, holy night..." and we shall sweep the skies for their brightest colors and festoon our homes with stars...and we will remember what Christmas means- the beginning of Christianity, the Second Chance for the world, the hope for peace, and the only way.

The years that are gone are graveyards in which all the persuations of men have crumbled into dust. If history has any voice, it is to say that all the ways of men lead nowhere. There remains one way-The Way-untried, untested, unexplored fully...the way of Him who was born a babe in Bethlehem.

In a world that seems not only to be changing, but even to be dissolving, there some tens of millions of us who want Christmas to be the same... with the same old greeting "Merry Christmas"and no other. We want to hold on to the old customs and traditions because they strengthen our family ties, bind us to our friends, make us one with all mankind for whom the Child was born, and bring us back again to the God who gave His only begotten Son...

So we will not "spend" Christmas, nor "observe" Christmas...we will "KEEP" Christmas- keep it as it is, in all the loveliness of its ancient traditions.

May we keep it in our hearts, that we may be kept in its hope.

Peter Marshall, Senate Chaplain
photo from 1955

Sounds like this could have been written THIS year in America, not way back when...


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