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Communion Sunday
Discources: II. On Christmas Day

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men
5. Luke, ii. 14.

In all the Christian year, in all the secular year, there is not a day which has gained the heartiness of universal welcome, like the kindly Christmas. It was our Blessed Redeemer’s Death that consummated His great atonement; and of that which we know the very day: it was on the seventh of April Christ died. Yet Good Friday has but at best recognition, when compared with Christmas. It is on our Blessed Redeemer’s Resurrection that all hopes depend: If He were not risen, Christian people are of all most deluded. Yet though Easter-day be chief in the Church's Kalendar, and though it come in the hopeful Spring with the first green leaves, when the most care-worn know some fitful waking-up of the old light-heartedness, it never has taken such hold of the common mind of our race as has the Sacred Festival that comes in the deadest days of the drear December, when in the wild winter-time the heaven-born Child lay meanly-wrapt in the rude manger: when those linked by blood, and early remembrances of the same fireside, but parted the long year through by the estranging necessities of life* strive to meet again, as in childhood, together: and all the innocent mirth, the revived associations, the kindly affection, are hallowed by the environing presence of the Birth-day of the Blessed Redeemer.

It is pleasant to think that this great Festival of our holy religion, recalling the solemn fact of the Nativity and Incarnation, is so linked and twined with human and domestic affection: pleasant to think, that by common consent of all men, everything kindly,charitable, cheerful, and hopeful, goes so congenially with the thought of Christ. I do not care that the twenty-fifth of December is not really the great Birthday, nor that no one knows when that day does actually fall. Enough that this day has been kept as such for sixteen hundred years. Enough that when Christmas-time comes back, with all the sacred remembrances it brings with it of redeeming love and of free salvation,—of God's mysterious and incommunicable attributes taken into union with humanity, and brought near to each of us by Him who is Emmanuel, God with us,—enough that the meetings together of divided families under the old roof-tree where the aged parents yet linger, or elsewhere after parents are gone;—the long-looked-for holiday season of the boys and girls;—the breathing-space of rest in the life of the hardest workers;—the gladness pensive with the remembrances of the dead and the thought how time is telling on us all; and in other days the free-handed charity, the rich man's door open to all comers, the levelling of all ranks if only for the day that brought salvation alike to rich and poor,—even the child-like merriment of sports with which we now could with difficulty sympathize, though they were well in a simpler time,—enough that all these be the congenial recognition of what men held to be the Birthday of Christ!

We would not coldly reason about such a day. For everything that is simple and kindly and childlike seems meet in the sacred season wherein the great Founder of our faith and Pattern of our life was Himself a little Child. One recalls with sympathy even the superstitious beliefs which we have ourselves outgrown, which were common in men's hearts and minds in days departed, and which testify to the mystic reverence, love, hopefulness, and beauty* that clung to the blessed day. It was a superstition, but a beautiful superstition,—beautiful like the illusions of childhood which must perforce be left behind,—that as the first hour of the Great Birthday struck, the cattle knelt in their stalls as those did that were present at the Nativity: that all powers of darkness were powerless that night, and could do nothing to molest any Christian soul: that kind spirits, always kind, had then more strength allowed them to do kind deeds,—so that little children might lie down to sleep in full faith that on waking in the morning they would find beside them some pleasant gift, brought by God's good angels. It was a child-like, but a pious thought, that the green holly-leaves with the red berries wherewith all dwellings were decorated, recalled the Crown of Thorns, with its drops of precious blood; that the thorn-tree which Joseph of Arimathea brought to the Vale of Avalon blossomed yearly in the ungenial winter-month which yet had within it the happiest day of all the year; and that the little red-breast, picking its scanty crumbs amid the snow, had its reminder too of our Saviour,—in that red stain which came of the drops which fell on it as it sought to pluck out one of the nails of the Cross; and which in every Christian land have made the poor bird safe and sacred.

No doubt the yule log and the mistletoe may be traced back to Heathenism: even as the Gregorian Tones may be. The heathen temples of Greece, it seems likely, first heard that simple, yet matchless music: and bloody Druidism brought in the yule log, and hung up the little twigs. But it is not that the religion of Him who made the water and consecrated the earthly to heavenly uses, should take things known and familiar by old custom, as make them Nature’s pleasant memorials of better and worthier things. The gathering of a scattered household is good, apart from any religious sanction.

Thus we strive against the estranging power of time, the sorrowful alienation of years. But it is pleasant that it be hallowed; it is well that surrounding all kind affections and old associations there be the atmosphere of the great Redeemer's birth. We have grown quieter in our ways than were our Christian forefathers: we are sophisticated, and cannot easily be interested or impressed by the like simple means as they. We do not now choose out our Lord of Misrule: the Mummers, still partially known in this ancient city, are much abated of the old formality, and state, and seriousness; and in a hundred ways the Christmas of past ages (we are made to feel) is gone. The Baron's hall, if there be anywhere what could without affectation be called so, may be decked as of yore: but it is filled no longer with that crowd, mingling all social distinctions, which feudal years knew. Nor does the congregation gather now for God's worship, in the dead of the winter-night, as the midnight bells cease their chime, to welcome the Birthday of Him who is every true man's Brother. Even the very seasons seem changed; the bracing frost, the quiet snow, the exhilarating air we remember at the Christmasses of our childhood,—how different from these gloomy skies and drenching rains and deep muddy ways! But we will not admit, if we can help it, anything of the cynical spirit that has outgrown Christmas: we thank God that a new generation of children are here, with childhood's wondering and believing nature; and the good man will strive to welcome the Season to the last, as when he was a boy. Sobered, indeed, and subdued, we who are older have now our gentle remembrances of those gone from us, but still one with us in the Communion of Saints. There is, to most, some gathering of the old familiar faces, in a circle hardly lessened, forasmuch as little new faces are coming, too—filling the places of the dead, and sometimes recalling their features. And the blessed time, even to such as scarcely associate it with a Saviour's birth, retains a consecration more real than ever was given or dispelled by historic fact or fancy. For Christmas, do what you might to abate its sanctity, would still abide the season of cordial greetings and heartfelt good wishes : of sapped enmities and offences forgotten: of hearts warmed by the genial spirit of the time: of cheerful and sad recollections of early days: of holiday to all classes: of larger benevolence to the rich; and increase of comforts to the poor.

And if it be that the ideal Christmas, all pure goodwill and quiet content and child-like gaiety,—the ideal Christmas of frosty skies, and beautiful snow bending the hearty evergreens and the great pines,—-the ideal Christmas of oaken halls, and Gothic arches, and quaint carols, and old-fashioned ways,— has come to few among us, or come to none: If there have been ever, at Christmas-tide, since we were children, some worry, anxiety, trouble,—some drawback that made us feel that not this year can the blessed season be all we could wish it;—Think, is not this just the way of this disappointing world, and the condition of our being here? Not in this troublesome life can we hope the full satisfaction of these immortal natures. Not in this world, in the full measure, can there be Glory to God in the highest, nor peace and goodwill among men. Little offences and irritations will take from Christmas kindness: little worries and heavy sorrows will take from Christmas peace. We cannot pretend, even to-day, to think well of every human being we know. And not here, anymore, can the Christmas gathering of the family be complete. The faces that used to be brightest, and the voices that were cheeriest, are gone. Christ bring us in the end to that Home, where we shall see His kind face and be happy: bring us, parents and children, brothers and sisters, where all that was dear, all that was good and pleasant about this life, shall be restored to us, and all sin and sorrow shall be forgot!

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