Thursday, December 24, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Simplicity resonates at Christmastime
Christmas is a family holiday. It has been ever since Mary, Joseph, and the Babe, lying in a manger. There is a sense that every time there is a mother and a father, and a babe is being born, a little reenactment of Christmas occurs, especially if there is a whiff of disdain from the townsfolk surrounding the situation.
Christmas is a family holiday. People go to their relatives, or the family comes home to you. On most other occasions, the cafes and restaurants go great-guns. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyplace to dine out on Christmas. Even, as is my case, people with no near relations are taken in by others.
Christmas is a family holiday. Especially in the rural South, there is very little churchgoing on the actual day. I am sure this came from a lack of preachers in the olden days, but it also stems from the old Puritan ancestry so many of us have religiously, where people were supposed to go to church on the Lord’s Day, and equally not supposed to go to church on days that the Lord had not commanded.
Those who are now insisting that we say “Merry Christmas” to all and sundry, even to those who do not practice our religion—would get strange looks from the old Puritans. Though they believed very much in the incarnation of Christ, they would never have celebrated this with presents and trees!
Christmas is a family holiday. One way we Southerners express this is by shooting firearms and exploding fireworks. I am guessing that since Vicksburg did not celebrate the Fourth of July, having surrendered to General Grant on that fateful day, perhaps the customs of Independence Day somehow got transferred to December 25. Who knows?
Mary Virginia Grigsby, who came from Ohio, lived in the Presbyterian manse on Craft Street, for her father was pastor of our church here in the 1890s. Years later, she wrote that: “A queer [Christmas] custom was shooting fire crackers, Roman candles and skyrockets, all of which are generally used on the Fourth of July. Our Northern cousins thought this custom absolutely reprehensible.” When I hear the fireworks on Christmas Day, and my dog Gracie shudders, I always smile and think of Mary Virginia.
Mary Virginia Grigsby also said that “Christmas was ‘calling day.’ The parlor was opened, fires lighted, and the entire house bright and cheery, with many goodies about, particularly beaten biscuits, chicken salad and fruit cake. . . . And we all wore our best Sunday clothes. Many visitors from our congregation and elsewhere called and the little tray on the table in the hall would be filled with calling cards.”
Christmas is a family holiday. I shall be glad to see everyone who appears at our service on Christmas Eve; but to me, the real heart of the occasion is when the family gathers at the dinner table, sings carols around the piano and, perhaps, reads the Christmas story from St. Luke, Chapter 2.
Christmas is one of the very few occasions when the exhortation to simplicity resonates. Note that I did not say ‘astringency,’ for we shall eat too much. After all, Christmas recalls an occasion when the angels sang. As such, there ought to be a bit of excess in our response, don’t you think?
But the basic elements are simple: Grace, friendship, good food, showing kindness to others because that is what we have received. And because it would gladden His heart, to remember those, who like Him, face life with less than perfect surroundings and inadequate provisions.
Having done these things, we have marked the day, and because it is a different kind of day, we ought to go from it as different kinds of the people than we were in the day before. It is a blessed interruption!
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