Hello Friends,

Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) was an educator and Presbyterian clergyman. In addition to preaching, he also wrote poetry. One year he penned a famous poem called Keeping Christmas. His words still speak to me as I consider what it means to celebrate Jesus and maintain a calm heart in the busyness of the Christmas season:

It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity which runs on sun time.

But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing…

…to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;

…to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;

…to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;

…to see that your fellow-men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;

…to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;

…to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness–are you willing to do these things even for a day?

Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

…to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children;

…to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old;

…to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough;

…to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts;

…to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;

…to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;

…to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open–are you willing to do these things even for a day?

Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

…to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world–stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death–and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone.

I love Henry Van Dyke’s call for a reflective and quiet celebration of Christmas. It’s about serving others more than being served. It’s about listening more than speaking. It’s about forgiveness and grace and light.

You and I can “keep” Christmas whether we have or a lot. We can “keep” Christmas even when the world around us tries to steal our joy. Even if Christmas Day only falls once a year, we can “keep” Christmas all year long.

I’d like to think that how we celebrate Christmas can set the tone for the year ahead. It’s a beginning and not a conclusion to the year. How we come together, bless one another, and give our lives away can create a new, lasting practice that propels us into a year of bearing fruit for others and for God’s glory.

So church, let’s keep Christmas. Let’s listen to what the Spirit is saying and not just hear the word, but do what it says. And let’s remember: you and I can’t keep Christmas alone. We need one another. We’re not complete without you.

I look forward to these next few weeks as we worship, serve, fellowship, and give. Much love to you!

Have an amazing week,

Pastor Brent McDougal

P.S. Please feel welcome to join us at FBC for our next Advent service on Sunday, December 10, where we come together in the “Thin Places” of Advent. Our children will help to lead us in worship. The following Sunday, December 17, our senior adult choir (Golden Notes) will help us to encounter Christ. Also be sure to note that we have one morning service on December 24th at 11am and then the 5pm regular Christmas Eve opportunity for worship (the same format for both services).