« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
citing descriptions of “good old Christmas," venerably hoary, and yet, like the “ Father William ” of the song, “a hale and a hearty old man;" albeit, unlike “ Father William,” an old man of jovial countenance and demeanour, presiding over the boar's head, the peacock, and the wassail bowl of former days, or the rich and varied luxuries of the present. The painter and the poet alike delight to enshrine him as a sort of deity, to whose altar are driven the flocks, and herds, and feathered fowl, as an annual sacrifice, and before whom are poured out libations of the most costly wines ; while the votaries around that shrine very much resemble the Bacchanals of old in their wild and intemperate orgies, the Lord of Misrule being, in truth, as much their leader now as he was personally in the masques of the olden times. Such is the general representation of Christmas, conveying very clearly to the mind of the observer an idea that the chief enjoyments suitable to the season are those which gratify the senses.
It is true that, laying aside the poet's dream and the painter's colouring, we find a much quieter tone pervading the hospitalities of modern Christmas ; but yet we do not cease to perceive that feasting is too generally "the one thing needful,” in the opinion of those who make it a rule to continue the “ keeping of Christmas,”—a very prevalent rule, by the way, and one to which there are few exceptions.
Consecrated by the world to pleasure in all its forms, Christmas brings also in its train many intellectual delights, both public and private ; among which last, the tale told round the blazing hearth has, and ever will have, charms for both childhood and riper years ; nor do riper years disdain to join at this privileged season with childhood in many of its sports, for at this season there is a gathering together of kindred ties, and the different generations of the same family contribute to the general gratification of all. Cold and dreary as it may be without, we yet imagine to ourselves that for the most part every house belonging to the wealthier classes is at that time within a scene of comfort, if not of luxury,—of happiness, if not of joyousness and mirth, rougher or more refined, according to the rank or the cultivated tastes of its inmates. Here the picturesque old farm welcomes in friends and neighbours with a hearty greeting, and the warm, rich glow within seems to glow yet more richly, from the sleety darkness which curtains around the doorway without, as it opens for a moment to admit fresh guests, and with them fresh communications of interest or of amusement. Then the “ancestral hall” receives a more courtly company into its splendid apartments, where massy walls and heavy curtains shut
out all appearance of winter, and light and brilliancy, and “silken sheen,” irradiate the evening circle. In these homes we seem to hear “ the sound of music and dancing," and the voice of laughter. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the old man with “ his staff in his hand for very age," and his children's children, are there. Those who have been long parted are together, those who meet perhaps at no other time. Beyond all earthly pleasures are the pleasures of affection; and “the dead of the winter,” the depth of the darkest and stormiest season of the year, brings these before us in their most delightful and most joyous form, for it brings the Christmas time.
“ But what are these to me?" inquires the lonely one. walk forth at this mirthful and happy time, and as I look upon the homes around me, I, too, picture out these comforts and enjoyments. There
in which I am invited to
semblance of the Christmas time; but where are the merry faces brightening round the blaze ? I turn to some instrument of music, and wake up a few notes of harmony, to which there are none to listen. I take up an amusing volume. It would be more amusing could others enjoy it with me. At any other time solitude would not so much matter- but at Christmas ! The very idea of it weighs down one's spirits !
A lonely Christmas !-want of amusement !-of something to cheer the spirits, need these things be complained of, or experienced so often as in reality they are ? Not if those who have the means would follow the example of him who was so determined to have a feast, that he sent out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city “ to find guests for his table;" nay, even into “ the highways and hedges," to compel them to come in, that his house might be filled. Not if they acted upon the precept of Him whose birth they at least profess to celebrate, for it was He who said, “ When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be
THE ENGLISH MONTHLY TRACT SOCIETY, 27, RED LION SQUARE, LONDON.
recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” Even a small home might be enlivened by some such happy faces, be they only the faces of a few poor children; and such kind of Christmas festivity brings with it not merely a pleasure, but a blessing—a twofold blessing-enjoyed at the present time, and renewed even at the dawning of eternity. “ But,” says the complainer, .
“this requires wealth.” Not so much, perhaps, as is generally supposed. But, however, let us grant that all cannot afford themselves this home gratification, or may not find it convenient to entertain such guests. But can they send happiness to no other home? The cost of a few shillings only would render a poor family comfortable, and enable them to keep
their Christmas, even luxuriously, in their own estimation. Then would our lonely individual find himself very closely connected with the social pleasures of the season; and while meditating in his solitary apartment, would not fail to enjoy reflections, not only pleasant, but exhilarating, as he pictured to himself this scene in at least one home made happy by his own assistance. Nor need this pleasure be wholly unknown to any who possess comparatively but a small share of Christmas comforts, since it would take but a trifling portion of the good things which grace their tables to make a little feast for some one as solitary as themselves, but poor and destitute. So strongly was this feeling experienced by one who was compelled to spend an unsociable Christmas in the vicinity of a thinly-peopled village, that sooner than have no sharer in the Christmas feast, this solitary individual set out, furnished with a stock of suitable provision, for the purpose of discovering the abode of the only poor man, of whom mention had been made as likely to find such a gift especially acceptable; and the walk across a cold, wintry common was rendered pleasant, and the remainder of the day was passed with double satisfaction, from the recollection that the donor even of so humble a present was not alone in the enjoyment of that companionless Christmas. In this case the merit was none, for the lover of Christmas sociability was actuated by no better motive than the desire of increasing home happiness by the knowledge that there was a partaker, though distant, in the solitary festivity; but the experiment answered its purpose well, and may therefore be recommended as one easy to be made, and sure to succeed. How much more sure, how much more gratifying, and more roble in its aim, must be the kindness administered for the sake of Him, in whose name even the
cup of cold water shall not lose its reward. But there is yet another Christmas to be considered, and
that not always a lonely one, It is the Christmas time of the
There is some vacant seat in the fireside circle, and where the former occupant is not—there falls the shadow of death. It may be that the family under that roof have always made it their rule to be together at this joyous season, and for that cause they feel their loss with a keener pang when the accustomed day returns. The mourner shrinks away from all festivity; he desires none : it would be a mockery of his griefs. “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart.
What is the Christmas time to him ?
And yet to the mourner should Christmas come, if possible, yet more acceptably than to all beside ; for ought it not to remind him of the Sun of Righteousness, who “
arose with healing in his wings,” and whose birth we profess to commemorate on that day? Ought it not to awaken in the heart of the bereaved one a remembrance of Him through whom alone he can ever hope to be again united to those he has lost, if they and he were, indeed, followers of that Redeemer “mighty to
" ? Hitherto, we have looked upon the Christmas time only as the generality of men look at it; and truly they see but through a glass darkly. Even the poet and the painter, while depicting Christmas as a time of revelry, yet mingle their earthly scenes with visions of heaven. The watchful shepherd, the glittering array of the rich and learned, the star in the East, the song of the angel multitude, the virgin mother, the Babe of Bethlehem -
Cold on His cradle the dew-drops are shining,
Low lies His head with the beasis of the stall;
Maker, and movarch, and Saviour of all.” All these things are an intertwining of sanctities, earthly and heavenly—a mingling of the humble and high of station. The rich in wisdom and the simple minded all inquiring alike, all trustful, all prayerful, hearing of the new-born King, and seeking Him as soon as suminoned into His presence. The mighty hosts who stand around the throne of God, the Son of the Almighty himself come down to visit His father's vineyard; all that is lovely, all that is holy, all that is mysterious, are assembled there ! In Him shall all families of the earth be blessed, for He is the desire of nations. Look to it, then, all ye families of the earth, who are now celebrating His birth, or are professing to do so, and see that you are in reality blessed by His coming.
Gladdening as are these festivities of earth, beautiful as are these visions of heaven, it must yet be remembered that we may keep the feast of Christ our passover ; not with the old leaven of worldly thoughts, but with the “unleavened bread of heavenly sincerity and truth," "singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord,” and that the realities of heaven are far beyond the brightest imaginings of man. There is a hollowness in the most seemingly substantial of worldly mirth ; like the crackling of thorns under a pot, it blazes out for a short time only, and then subsides into ashes. There is a shadowy lustre in the fabulous glories struck out by the genius of poet or painter; like the evening clouds, they have been kindled up by the reflection of the sun, yet of the sun himself they can give us no true idea.
It is the Christian only who enjoys this feast (thus kept in “ the dead of the winter ') thoroughly and truly, for to him it brings not merely perishing enjoyments nor imaginary pleasures. He is not, indeed, debarred from participating in any which he may feel to be consistent with his high profession, but he takes altogether a higher stand-his happiness is fixed on nobler objects, his thoughts refuse to confine themselves to the low pleasures of earthly festivities; his delights are more even than intellectual, for they are spiritual; he does not merely spread his hospitable board and assemble his guests in honour of One only who came long since to be born and to die for his everlasting welfare, he does his homage to a living benefactor; he not only commemorates that benefactor as a distant friend, he communes with Him as one present and very near to him, as one who says,—“Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world ;” as one who says, “ If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This surely is high and holy company, and such as is fitted for the redeemed spirit of man; why, then, should man content himself with what is so inferior ? There is a hallowed majesty around the Christmas time, a joy into which the humblest of Christ's followers may enter; it is irrespective of outward circumstances, and is quite beyond them ; it is what those only feel who live in constant communion with their God and Saviour. At all times they seek His presence, but it is now that they love more especially to think of Him as the earth-born babe, given to the woman's care, in merciful forgiveness of the woman's disobedience. Never was forgiveness like that forgiveness, when the sinned against committed Himself to the charge of the sinner, and for the very purpose of being that sinner's Saviour. Surely the