Harmon’s Histories: Montana minister cautions against loss of true Christmas spirit
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
The page has turned on the calendar. It’s December.
Each year we all, likely as not, need a reminder – a proper perspective – of the season.
The précis supplied in December 1886 by the Rev. F. D. Kelsey in the Helena Weekly Herald seems as insightful today as then. Here it is, verbatim:
Again the joyous season, the gladdest of glad hours, has returned, bringing beauty and art and wealth to the feet of piety and benevolence. The stores have been full of all sorts of devices to please and make happy those who should be so fortunate as to obtain such treasures as possessions; like the blossoms of spring time, these blossoms of friendship and piety and benevolence are of innumerable quantities.
The stores are full, the post office is over loaded, the railway trains delayed: no home so poor but, like God's wild flowers, these Christmas gifts find a way to enter there; is it possible that any one, old or young, rich or poor, exists today whose heart is not gladdened by some token of remembrance?
Many enter into those Christmas festivities with zest, who never give the day a single thought as a day of precious memories, and hopes and expectations. They take the material advantages, but give the slip to all the higher sentiments and hopes and meanings; in like manner our cattle on the mountain side, browsing, stand amidst scenery most inspiring but care for naught except the food for the stomach.
The man who browses only is animal and sensual and brutal, yet many never get beyond material matters up into spiritual. Christmas to such men means only a season for the exchange of gifts. This is symbolized by the change in manner of greeting: time was when
on Christmas day all were calling one to another, "Christmas gift!" in polite society such an exclamation and greeting is never heard at the present day; they have passed from the material gift to the joy implied in the gift, and the greeting now is "Merry Christmas."
Happy will that day be when our Christmas greeting shall take a step higher up to the great source of all joy and blessing, who so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that "whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."
The great Christmas gift is the gift of God's son to a perishing world. It was a double gift: the Son of God gave himself unto us as a redeeming and suffering one to die for our lives: and greater still, God gave his Son—a nobler sacrifice than to give Himself. This is what gives to Christmas its preciousness: it is the day of a divine gift.
Patriotism celebrates the Fourth of July as the day of National birth and precious memories of a rich inheritance of freedom, liberty and independence. The day is degenerating into a day for mere noise, hilarity and boisterousness; somewhat so the spirit of Christians seems to be degenerating into mere merry making, it ought to be of all glad but religious days, the most
religious and worshipful. Our attention should be turned away from the material gifts to the great gift. Yet how few, comparatively, will spend the day in any way other than in hilarity, feasting and visiting?
Christmas has a wide educational value, opening what has been fittingly called "Chestnut Burrs."
Many a man whose exterior is rough and pointed and a caution to handle, will have on Christmas his heart opened, revealing to himself and others a much richer and more precious heart than the exterior seemed to promise.
Our selfish pursuits all the year round tend to belittle our hearts, but on Christmas our hearts are opened to more genial and benevolent pursuits and warm themselves at sacrificial fires of love, kindness and charity.
God bless Christmas! God bless Christmas to young and old; the happier, merrier the day, the better! But are not our hearts ungrateful and unkind if we return no thanks to him who is suffering love, brought by his own humiliation and sacrifice, our Christmas day of rejoicing – a day whose benefit to laboring, burdened and sorrowing men is beyond all measurement.
Christmas! Day of Gladness! Christmas, be thou ever kept sacred to charity, joy and blessing! If Christ's life had accomplished only this, of making universal joy on Christmas, he had done a blessed work in man's behalf. He did infinitely more, Christmas means God's gift to men of a redeemer and savior. Happy is he who has received this gift today.”
By Rev. F. D. Kelsey
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.