The Spirit of Christmas
Saturday, December 26, 2009
By Dr. Saul Hounchell (Written in December 1941)
(Editor's Note: Dr. Saul Hounchell, Oneida President 1941-46, wrote the following exactly 68 years ago this month. It was the month of Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into another World War that would involve fighting in Europe, Asia and Africa. Nine former Oneida boys were killed in that conflict. The eternal truths that Dr. Hounchell wrote of are just as true with the passing of half a century).
We are nearing the time when one of the loveliest of spirits will be abroad among humanity-the Spirit of Christmas. We all believe, I am sure, in spirits. lmportant as material things are in our lives, it is nevertheless true that the things we treasure most, even in our day-to-day living, are spiritual things. Great music, fine books, all great art, are things of spirit. Liberty, in its highest sense, is but freedom of the spirit of man. Friendship is a comradeship of human spirits. Faith, hope, love are spiritual things. God is a spirit and Christmas is a spirit.
The Spirit of Christmas no one, however, would attempt to define. One could only hope to suggest a little of what it means to himself. It isn't, of course, just a time of year. It isn't just crowded shops and streets, parcel post packages, the wrapping of presents, or the writing of cards. It isn't just giving something to those less fortunate than ourselves. It certainly isn't just spending money freely or making money rapidly, or eating or drinking, or any sort of physical enjoyment or comfort. It isn't just a holiday from work or school.
The Spirit of Christmas is something we can't express, something in the air and deep within our feelings. It is lights shining through darkness, the smell of snow whether there’s snow or not, the far-seen radiance of a star, the exchange of smiles between strangers in a street. It is the sound of bells, the singing of carols, the hanging of evergreens, the beating of angels' wings. Christmas is glory, peace, good will to men-the men of good will. It is neighborliness, and tenderness, and selflessness. It is love, and joy, and sacrifice. It is a little child and his mother.
Christmas means to me the warming and softening of the heart of a Scrooge; the courage and gentleness and devotion of a Cratchitt family and a Tiny Tim. It means the life-long quest of The Other Wise Man for the King-forever drawn out of his way to help some needy human being, and never quite realizing, even unto the last, that such is the only way one shall ever really find the Master.
Christmas means to me groups of boys and girls setting out from school, with laughter in their voices and in their hearts, to go HOME for CHRISTMAS, and an unvoiced prayer that for each one it may be a very happy Christmas.
Christmas means to me a humble log home in the mountains, with a roaring fire in the early morning, and seven pairs of mother-knit stockings hanging, filled, at the ends of a long fireboard. It means a Christmas tree, years afterwards, with gifts and plenty of toys, and Santa Claus, and two little fellows very happy, and a father and mother giving thanks.
Christmas means to me the glory and wonder of Handel's "Messiah"--the prophecies of Isaiah, the psalms of David, the gospel of Luke, the goodness and faith of Job, all blended together and set to music of inconceivable loveliness and inspiration. It means the orchestra of my school playing the "Pastoral Symphony;" lovely voices singing "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light," "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd," "Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow," "I know that my Redeemer liveth," "Peace on earth, good will toward men," "Hallelujah." and all the others.
But more than all else, I think, Christmas means to be a lowly teacher, human and divine, walking among common humanity; feeling a great compassion for them; bearing their burdens with them; teaching them, by His words and by His life, to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strcngth, and their neighbors as themselves. It means the Cross, and a voice saying, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
Such, in moments of more happy reflection, seems the spirit of Christmas. Unhappily, however, there are other thoughts which will not be shut out from our contemplation of the beauty and mystery of Christmas. We cannot forget, if we tried, that not all peoples are as fortunate as we who live in blest America, and that not all groups in our own favored country are as happy as they could be. We cannot forget that for hundreds of millions of people, living in so called Christian lands, Christmas 1941 may as well not be coming. Nor can we escape a fear that next Christmas perhaps, or the next, may never come for anybody; for in a world, still more on fire than now with war and greed and mad hate, there will be so little place for Christian institutions, that even the words "Merry Christmas" may become a mockery.
Yes, there are other thoughts. Have we been able this fall to look upon a football field without thinking also of No-Man’s. Land, about the same width perhaps, where line also meets line? Can we think any longer of the Cross-without thinking again of acres of crosses, row on row? Can we think this Christmas of the family, who found no welcome in the inn of a strange city, without thinking of hundreds of thousands of families, of the same race, who find no welcome in their own countries or elsewhere, but find organized hate and persecution and privation, not of property only, but of God-given rights, including life itself. Can we give and receive piles of gifts this Christmas without thinking of the No- Santa-Claus lands of our own country, some of them not so far from Oneida School?
We would not, though, extend this side of the picture too far. Could we sum it up by saying that Christmas 1941 presents the ironic spectacle of a world of men, who have gained control over almost all nature, except their own human natures, and who seem on the point of rejecting finally the profoundest truth ever to be glimpsed by mankind-namely, that all men are created equal, the children of one Father, and therefore brothers? And that one must therefore never think of hating or injuring this fellow man, no matter what the circumstances? This truest of all truths came as a blessing of Christmas. The Christ enunciated it and was its high example.
Do we, in this critical hour of history,. find ourselves groping for some high and noble end toward which to strive, something worthy of the best that is in us and capable of calling out that best, something worth giving our lives to, or even FOR if need be? I think we will find it here. It is that the spirit of Christ-the true spirit of Christmas- may become a reality in the lives of men. It is the only hope of the world. The place to begin is with ourselves. It will give to our lives meaning and purpose and happiness. God help us this Christmas to be Christians.
(Oneida Mountaineer is published bimonthly by Oneida Baptist Institute, Mulberry St., P.O. Box 67. Oneida, KY 40972·0067. Second class postage paid at Oneida. KY. Subscription free to friends and alumni of Oneida. Postmaster send address changes to Oneida Mountaineer, P.O. Box 67. Oneida, KY 40972·0067).
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