THE TRUE WAY OF KEEPING CHRISTMAS
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Matthew 1.21.
The celebration of the birth of Christ has been esteemed a duty by most who profess Christianity. It was free love that brought the Lord Jesus Christ into our world about 1700 years ago; and shall we not remember the birth of our Jesus? Shall we yearly celebrate the birth of our temporal king, and shall that of the King of kings be quite forgotten? God forbid! No, my dear brethren, let us celebrate and keep this festival with joy in our hearts. Let the birth of a redeemer, who redeemed us from sin, from wrath, from death, from hell, be always remembered; may this Saviour’s love be never forgotten! May we sing forth all His love and glory as long as life shall last here, and through an endless eternity in the world above! May we chant forth the wonders of redeeming love and the riches of free grace amidst angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, without intermission, for ever and ever!
It is my design to lay down rules for the true keeping of that time of Christmas which is now approaching.
The Wrong Way
I shall show you when you may be said not to be observing this festival aright.
First, you do not celebrate this aright when you spend most of your time in cards, dice or gaming of any sort.
Have we too much time upon our hands? It is well, if instead of having too much time, it be not found that we have got too little, when we come to die. Then we shall wish that we had made more account of our time, that we had improved it for the glory of God, and the welfare of our immortal souls.
Good God! how amazing is the consideration that many can go to church in the morning and take the sacrament, and spend the afternoon and evening at cards! Is this, my brethren, discerning the Lord’s body? Is this taking the sacrament according to its institution? Is not this a pollution thereof, and making the blood of he covenant an unholy thing?
Secondly, they cannot be said truly to celebrate this time who spend their time in eating and drinking to excess.
This is a season when persons are apt to indulge themselves in all manner of luxury: iniquity now abounds apace; almost nothing is to be seen but things of the greatest extravagance imaginable. This makes us only fit to do such drudgery as the devil shall set us about:
his is only preparing us to run wheresoever the devil sends; this, instead of denying ourselves, is indulging ourselves; this is not, and cannot be called a celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we are making ourselves worse than the beasts that perish.
How can you say, ‘Lead us not into temptation’, when you are resolved to lead yourselves into it by running into the occasions of sin? You are commanded to keep from the appearance of evil; and do you do that by running into the place and company where it is .likely to be committed?
Thirdly, nor can they be said to keep, or rightly observe the commemoration of the birth of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who neglect their worldly callings to follow pleasures and diversions.
How many who thus mis-spend their time at this season, lay by the work of their callings for a considerable time, with no other view but to follow earthly, sensual, and devilish pleasures ….
The Right Way
I come now in the second place to show you who they are who do rightly observe and truly celebrate the birth of our Redeemer.
First, those who spend their time aright and truly observe this festival, are those who spend their hours in reading, praying, and .religious conversation.
What can we do to employ our time to a more noble purpose than reading of what our dear Redeemer has done and suffered; to read that the King of kings and the Lord of lords came from His throne and took upon Him the form of the meanest of His servants; and what great things He underwent? This, this is a history worth reading. This is worth employing our time about. Surely when we read of the sufferings of our Saviour it should excite us to prayer, that we might have an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let others enjoy their cards, their dice, their gaming hours; do you, my brethren, be spent in reading, praying, and religious conversation. Which will stand the trial best at the last day? Which do you think will bring most comfort, most peace, in a dying hour? O live and spend your time now as you will wish to have done when you come to die.
Secondly, let the good things of life that you enjoy be used with moderation. I am not, as the scoffers of this day tell you, against eating and drinking the good things of life; no, my brethren, I am only against their being used to an excess. And instead of running into excess, let that money which you might expend to pamper your own bodies, be given to feed the poor. For if Providence has smiled upon you and blessed you with abundance of the things of this life, God calls for some returns of gratitude from you.
Thirdly, let me beg of you not to alienate too much of your time from the worldly business of this life, but have a proper regard thereunto, and then you may be said rightly to observe this festival.
God allows none to be idle. In all ages, business was commended;
therefore do not think that any season will excuse us in our callings.
At this festival persons are apt to take a little more liberty than usual: and if that time from our vocations be not prejudicial to ourselves or our families, and be spent in the service of God and the good of immortal souls, then I do not think it sinful. But there is too much reason to fear that the time is spent on our own lusts, and then it is exceeding sinful, it is against the good of our own souls, and it is against the good of our families, and instead of commemorating the birth of our dear Redeemer, we are dishonouring Him in the greatest degree we possibly can.
Let me now conclude with a few words of exhortation, beseeching you to think of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Did Jesus come into the world to save us from death, and shall we spend no part of our time in conversing about our dear Jesus; shall we pay no regard to the birth of Him who came to redeem us from the worst of slavery, from that of sin and the devil; and shall this Jesus not only be born on our account, but likewise die in our stead, and yet shall we be unmindful of Him? Shall we spend our time in those things which are offensive to Him? O be not so ungrateful to Him who has been so kind to you! What could the Lord Jesus have done for you more than He has? Then do not abuse His mercy, but let your time be spent in thinking and talking of the love of Jesus who was incarnate for us, who was born of .a woman and made under the law, to redeem us from the wrath to come.
George Whitefield, 1714-1770.