When Will Christmas Come?



Peace! and to all the world! Sure One,
And He the Prince of Peace, hath none!
He travails to be born, and thenIs born to travail more again!


ONLY God could have thought of Christmas. Its beauty is beyond the wit of mortals, so simple in its sublimity, so homey yet so heavenly. On a tapestry woven of stable-straw and starlight it unveils a picture to soften and purify the heart, and to bring us back from a wisdom that is not wise, because it is hard, unholy, and unhopeful. Man would have made it a pageant, its stage directions as follows: —

Array of Great Ones
The Army marches by
Fanfare of trumpets
Enter the King

Our pageants pass and fade, but God works in slower and more secret ways. He blows no trumpet; He rings no bell. He begins within, seeking His ends by quiet growth, and by a strange power that men call weakness, a wisdom mistaken for folly. Man has one answer to every problem — force; but that is not the way of God. He did not send an army to conquer the world; He sent a Babe to make a woman cry. The divine method is different: —

The crowded Inn
A Mother and a Babe
No cradle, but a Manger
A man stunned by wonder
A wandering Star

Such wisdom bends the knee; such beauty breaks the heart — and mends it. It is a scene to sanctify the world, as if to teach us that God enters the life of man by lowly doors, attended by starry ideals and simple shepherd sentiments— ‘one of the children of the year.’ They are wise men who bow at such a shrine, linking a far-off pilgrim star with the cradle of a little Child. By such faith men are truly wise, knowing that no hope is too High, no dream too holy to be fulfilled — even the hope and dream of ‘peace on earth among men of good will.’

No wonder it is a scene of mirth and music. As Botticelli sees it, angels are singing on the roof of the inn, and all the world is aglow with a new joy. Dance is mingled with devotion, and laughter with liturgy. Nay, more: he sees a path winding its way to the Manger, and along it we need to return, we who walk thus far down the ways of time, lest we forget the thing which has come to pass.


Mayhap, if we take that path, an old faith and a new joy will be bom in us, bringing a sense of huge dawns that sleep before us, deep changes, and a great hope. For, while we are not hopeless, we are unhopeful of a world Christmas of which the vision tells. Much has happened betimes: war has followed war, woe has been added to woe, and ages of cruelty divide us from that Manger-Cradle under singing skies. Even in our own day a storm of world war has swept over us, leaving a black swirl of wreckage in its wake. Until we wonder, in spite of ourselves, whether the vision is not too fair ever to have been true in the past, and too frail ever to come true in the future.

Our faith is dimmed by a cloudy cynicism; our skyey idealism is darkened by a blurred bitterness. Ten million young men dead — the fathers of dream-children never now to be born! Such a fact makes even Christmas pensive, and we wear crape on our hearts. Only God can trace the echo of those guns and the min they wrought in the lonely places of the soul. Even when we talk of peace, and lay plans to outlaw war, our hearts are haunted by a deep dismay. Men still take the name of Jesus on their lips, but in act they adopt rites more befitting the worship of Moloch. The world is a scene of wasted powers, but no waste is so wicked as the waste of child-life. Each age childhood offers us a new beginning, and we have so far failed to break the entail of evil.

Yet the world desires nothing so much as peace; for seven years we have been groping in search of it in vain. The desire has been pathetic, but we have gone the wrong way to attain it. Every road we have taken has proved only a bypath, leading us to the brink of an abyss. In our misery we have turned back and sought another, only to find ourselves in the same danger and despair. At any rate, the fact has been burned into our minds that it is neither sane nor sensible nor possible for humanity to go on living on a basis of war — and that means much. It has even become a saying among us that we must end war, else war wall end us, bringing the house of man down in a charred and smoking ruin. But, alas, words such as these have been said before, and to no avail.

At the end of the struggle with Napoleon, in the years of famine and hatred and woe that followed, a Peace Society was formed. For a time it flourished, and then it faded. Gradually the high resolve in the hearts of men to end war ebbed out. Apathy and inertia ensued. New times brought new men who had not lived through the tragedy, and knew not its horror. At last the Peace Society became for many rather a nuisance, for others a bit of a joke. Dark forces gathered; clouds crept over the horizon; old envies, old vanities, old fears, old demands for trade and territory, returned — and again the world was shaken by the thunder of war. Will it be so again? Is it not going on before our very eyes? Is not our symbol a poppy? Will Christmas ever come?

Or must we admit that Christmas is only a fairy story, heart-woven and dream-spun, and that the gray shadows which life casts over us are the grim truth? Is it no more than a figment of fancy, tender and lovely, fragrant with old memories, enshrined in the love and armored with the wonder of childhood — a day of make-believe tugging at our hearts with the pull of playtime? After all, has the Church only made a party for the Christ Child, inviting Puck and Peter Pan and Tiny Tim, and dear old Santa Claus, each to bring a note of elfin glee, blending all into an eerie anthem with a song of angels long ago? In short, is it an airy unreality, too fragile for a world of feud?

No — Christmas is both a fact and a faith; but even if it were only a brief season of good will, a holiday from our forgetfulness of others, or just a family festival, it would be welcome. At least it is a day of poetry in the midst of drab days of prose. But, if we have journeyed the path Botticelli saw, other thoughts have been laid upon our souls. One little Child — and therefore, by a swift and sure logic, all little children who make the world so young, and keep it so. One who has been to Bethlehem can never lose his reverence for these new lives breaking out of the dark with promise of hope for the race. Nor can he ever cease to wonder at the folly of man, so careful of his material wealth, so careless of his real treasure; and equally at the pity of God.

God abides in a terrible patience
Unangered, unworn,
And still for the child that was taken
A child is born.


Such facts, faiths, fears, and pities mingle in the mood of our day, so sorely disillusioned. But the tasks of the days ahead ask us to defy dark moods, to rise above misgiving and work the old alchemy of our faith. No one can overestimate the spiritual factor; without it we lose our way in a bottomless bog. It is not enough that highminded men of state outline a plan of world order and peace. That is necessary. But all their plans and visions must depend for their fruition upon a spiritual life rising out of the heart of the people — a power of faith, a will to creation. Only the very genius of the religious spirit can achieve such vision and power.

Happily, by all the tokens, the tide is turning, and men are taking counsel of deeper needs and finer forces. For one thing, we have seen, in the outworking of ideas and events, that materialism ends in utter futility and chaos. In fact, as in philosophy, it is a proceeding in moral bankruptcy, and the verdict is written in red for all to read. No wonder men turn from it aghast. Fifty years ago men of science were proud to be materialists, but it is not so to-day. They are more nearly mystics, trying to wring a kind of mysticism out of matter, since man must be a mystic if he is to be a man at all, however he may hide the fact. Unless all signs fail, the wistful restlessness of the modern soul, astray in its own life, betokens a return to the eternal mysticism in which man finds faith to live and power to achieve.

By the same token, the feeling is widespread that we must have a new heaven if we are ever to have a new world. In other words, men are everywhere climly aware that a deeper, more vivid sense of God — nay, experience of God — is the profoundest need of our age. They may not put it so in words, but they know it in their hearts, as they know nothing else. By an awful exegesis of events we have learned that no law, no diplomacy, no device invented by the wit of man, can heal the broken lives and warring wills of men. When all is said, only religion can redeem mankind from the law of the jungle; not religion as an abstraction, still less as a huddle of sects, but religion as a mighty law and principle of being. No archaic orthodoxy, no dainty modernism, is equal to our need. There must be a new dimension of religion, uniting the old vision of faith with the new facts of the world and its laws. Our need is for a religion more direct, more drastic, at once more heroic and fraternal, with a daring kind of goodness, in which skill is blended with pity and joy.

No doubt it may be said that such a need is nothing new on earth and among men. Nor is Christmas—if it be only a story of long ago, enshrined in legend and enskied in art. But once we see that Christmas is no legend, but a revelation of God in the life of man, it becomes revolutionary, and we know it will come when we are worthy and ready to receive it. Often one feels that we are on the eve of the startling discovery that our religion, to our own astonishment, is actually true, in a way and to a depth which we have never even dreamed, and that, to neglect it is for the race to rush down a steep place and perish.


Thus one seeks to read, in a swift glimpse, more by hint and divination than by any record, the hidden signs of the time, so to speak, as they lie back of particular items in the programme of peace. Our programmes are important. It will be of far-reaching import if we make war both a sin in religion and a crime in the public law of the world. More important still, if only because it is less negative, is the effort by contact, by conference, and by the spread of knowledge, to obtain recognition of the fact that the interests and good of humanity as a whole really exist, and that nations are a part of one another, even though it, is right that each should aspire to its own ideal.

All the while, to urge it once more, behind all our efforts in behalf of a better mind and mood in the world we need the spiritual impulse and insight.

Never more so than to-day, when it is so fatally easy to fall into the cynic mood and say that human nature is human nature, and that we can expect nothing better of it than greed and revenge. For if man is a being in whom God can dwell, as Christmas affirms, if his soul may even be a cradle of the Eternal Love, then our highest social visions have hope of fulfillment. Then, indeed, we have not only a Divine Ally working with us, but also a hidden ally, potential and prophetic, in ‘the better angels of our nature,’to which we do not appeal in vain. To this faith we must add clarity of thought and charity of heart, and, above all, a new sense of the vast hope that lies hidden in man.

For Christmas is the theology of a civilization yet to be. Like the early Christians, we must live in an air of expectancy, as of something immense impending, of a profound change to take place. For us there have so far been two divisions of time, before Christ and after; and so we reckon our days. But a new division may yet be marked, to which the second period is leading up, as the first led up to the second. At any rate, men of spiritual awareness in all lands feel that a time has come in the history of man when he must take a step into a higher range of being, or else lose and slip back. Stated starkly, to save his life he must reverse the old order of the brute, and assert a diviner law of love, not as a poetic faith, but as the actual basis of his life. So, and only so, can our wounded world be lifted out of the shadow of strife and cruelty into the light of justice and joy.

It can be done. The morning of the world is young, and man is only a step or two on his march to the City of God. His future, even if measured by his past, is unimaginable; but the past is no test of what he can be and will be.

Already he has found new powers and dominions to which we can set no limit, and to-day he is peeping on tiptoe through a keyhole into unguessed regions yet to be explored. As he has discovered new potencies in nature, new elements, new distances, so in the realm of spiritual reality he will unlock new depths, and order his life by a diviner law. Soon or late he will live in a frontierless and unfortified world, ruled by moral intelligence and practical good will. The Christian era lies ahead of us.


In this fact is to be found the answer to the questions that bewilder us betimes. Why do we live for one day by the law of love and then turn again and rend each other? Wherefore do nations at war lift up hands in prayer to Him who taught us to love our enemies? Why do men who deny Christ yield, for one day, to the spell of His spirit of pity and joy? Is there any explanation of such a deficit between dream and deed? Yes. It lies in the fact that Christmas is a prophetic day, looking not so much backward as forward. It is a history of the future, of an order of life not yet attained, of a religion not yet realized. To our dull eyes it seems visionary; to God it is vision.

Over an armed camp, in a hard old Roman world, the song of the angels rang out, proclaiming ‘Peace on earth among men of good will.’ How far off it must have seemed on that night! How far off it seems to-day! Yet it will come true. It is not a myth; it is not a mockery. Surviving ages of slaughter, it still haunts us, proving its immortality. It is not a mortal melody, but a divine symphony. Because it is far off we know that it is not our own music, but was sent into the soul of man by One who is as far above us as the stars are above the mists.

It is a song out of the heart of the world. It means much that we can hear it, despite gray fears and grim facts, forever singing above a din of strife; and, hearing it, take up its strain in a world of feud. Not in our day, not in many days, perhaps, but at last it will be fulfilled. The world will fill up with men of good will who keep step to its music and live by its law — men who know that man was made for love, because God is love, and that love and joy will blend in the final note of the great world-song.