Sources: The Freedom Of Life
THERE was once a family who had a guest staying with them; and when
they found out that he was to have a birthday during his visit they
were all delighted at the idea of celebrating it. Days
before--almost weeks before--they began to prepare for the
celebration. They cooked and stored a large quantity of good things
to eat, and laid in a stock of good things to be cooked and prepared
on the happy day. They planned and arranged the most beautiful
decorations. They even thought over and made, or selected, little
gifts for one another; and the whole house was in hurry and
confusion for weeks before the birthday came. Everything else that
was to be done was postponed until after the birthday; and, indeed,
many important things were neglected.
Finally the birthday came, the rooms were all decorated, the table
set, all the little gifts arranged, and the guests from outside of
the house had all arrived. Just after the festivities had begun a
little child said to its mother: "Mamma, where is the man whose
birthday it is--"
"Hush, hush," the mother said, "don't ask questions."
But the child persisted, until finally the mother said: "Well, I am
sure I do not know, my dear, but I will ask."
She asked her neighbor, and the neighbor looked surprised and a
"Why," she said, "it is a celebration, we are celebrating his
birthday, and he is a guest in the house."
Then the mother got interested and curious herself.
"But where is the guest? Where is the man whose birthday it is?"
And, this time she asked one of the family. He looked startled at
first, and then inquired of the rest of the family.
"Where is the guest whose birthday it is?" Alas I nobody knew. There
they were, all excited and trying to enjoy themselves by celebrating
his birthday, and he,--some of them did not even know who he was! He
was left out and forgotten!
When they had wondered for a little while they immediately forgot
again, and went on with their celebrations,--all except the little
child. He slipped out of the room and made up his mind to find the
man whose birthday it was, and, finally, after a hard search, he
found him upstairs in the attic,--lonely and sick.
He had been asked to leave the guestroom, which he had occupied, and
to move upstairs, so as to be out of the way of the preparations for
his birthday. Here he had fallen ill, and no one had had time to
think of him, excepting one of the humbler servants and this little
child. They had all been so busy preparing for his birthday festival
that they had forgotten him entirely.
This is the way it is with most of us at Christmas time.
Whenever we think of a friend, or even an acquaintance, we think of
his various qualities,--not always in detail, but as forming a
general impression which we associate with his name. If it is a
friend whom we love and admire, we love, especially on his birthday,
to dwell on all that is good and true in his character; and at such
times, though he may be miles away in body, we find ourselves living
with him every hour of the day, and feel his presence, and, from
that feeling, do our daily tasks with the greater satisfaction and
Every one in this part of the world, of course, knows whose birthday
we celebrate on the twenty-fifth of December. if we imagine that
such a man never really existed, that he was simply an ideal
character, and nothing more,--if we were to take Christmas Day as
the festival of a noble myth,--the ideal which it represents is so
clear, so true, so absolutely practical in the way it is recorded in
the book of his life, that it would be a most helpful joy to reflect
upon it, and to try and apply its beautiful lessons on the day which
would especially recall it to our minds.
Or, let us suppose that such a man really did exist,--a man whose
character was transcendently clear and true, quiet, steady, and
strong,--a man who was full of warm and tender love for all,--who
was constantly doing good to others without the slightest display or
self-assertion,--a man who was simple and humble,--who looked the
whole world in the face and did what was right,--even though the
whole respectable world of his day disapproved of him, and even
though this same world attested in the most emphatic manner that he
was doing what was dangerous and wicked,--a man with spiritual sight
so keen that it was far above and beyond any mere intellectual
power,--a sight compared to which, what is commonly known as
intellectual keenness is, indeed, as darkness unto light; a man
with a loving consideration for others so true and tender that its
life was felt by those who merely touched the hem of his garment.
Suppose we knew that such a man really did live in this world, and
that the record of his life and teachings constitute the most
valuable heritage of our race,--what new life it would give us to
think of him, especially on his birthday,--to live over, so far as
we were able, his qualities as we knew them; and to gain, as a
result, new clearness for our own everyday lives. The better we knew
the man, the more clearly we could think of him, and the more full
our thoughts would be of living, practical suggestions for daily
But now just think what it would mean to us if we really knew that
this humble, loving man were the Creator of the universe--the very
God--who took upon Himself our human nature with all its hereditary
imperfections; and, in that human nature met and conquered every
temptation that ever was, or ever could be possible to man; thus--by
self-conquest--receiving all the divine qualities into his human
nature, and bringing them into this world within reach of the hearts
and minds of all men, to give light and warmth to their lives, and
to enable them to serve each other;--if we could take this view of
the man's life and work, with what quiet reverence and joy should we
celebrate the twenty-fifth of December as a day set apart to
celebrate His birth into the world!
If we ourselves loved a truthful, quiet way of living better than
any other way, how would we feel to see our friends preparing to
celebrate our birthday with strain, anxiety, and confusion? If we
valued a loving consideration for others more than anything else in
the world, how would it affect us to see our friends preparing for
the festival with a forced sense of the conventional necessity for
Who gives himself with his gift feeds three,--
Himself, his hungry neighbor, and Me."
That spirit should be in every Christmas gift throughout
Christendom. The most thoughtless man or woman would recognize the
truth if they could look at it quietly with due regard for the real
meaning of the day. But after having heard and assented to the
truth, the thoughtless people would, from force of habit, go on with
the same rush and strain.
It is comparatively easy to recognize the truth, but it is quite
another thing to habitually recognize your own disobedience to it,
and compel yourself to shun that disobedience, and so habitually to
obey,--and to obey it is our only means of treating the truth with
real respect. When you ask a man, about holiday time, how his wife
is, not uncommonly he will say:--
"Oh, she is all tired out getting ready for Christmas."
And how often we hear the boast:--
"I had one hundred Christmas presents to buy, and I am completely
worn out with the work of it."
And these very women who are tired and strained with the Christmas
work, "put on an expression" and talk with emotion of the beauty of
Christmas, and the joy there is in the "Christmas feeling."
Just so every one at the birthday party of the absent guest
exclaimed with delight at all the pleasures provided, although the
essential spirit of the occasion contradicted directly the qualities
of the man whose birthday it was supposed to honor.
How often we may hear women in the railway cars talking over their
"I got so and so for James,--that will do for him, don't you think
And, when her companion answers in the affirmative, she gives a sigh
of relief, as if to say, now he is off my mind!
Poor woman, she does not know what it means to give herself with her
gift. She is missing one of the essentials of the true joy of
Christmas Day. Indeed, if all her gifts are given in that spirit,
she is directly contradicting the true spirit of the day. How many
of us are unconsciously doing the same thing because of our--habit
of regarding Christmas gifts as a matter of conventional obligation.
If we get the spirit of giving because of Him whose birthday it is,
we shall love to give, and our hearts will go out with our gifts,--
and every gift, whether great or small, will be a thoughtful
message of love from one to another. There are now many people, of
course, who have this true spirit of Christmas giving, and they are
the people who most earnestly wish that they had more. Then there
are many more who do not know the spirit of a truly thoughtful gift,
but would be glad to know it, if it could once be brought to their
We cannot give in a truly loving spirit if we give in order that we
We cannot give truly in the spirit of Christmas if we rush and
hurry, and feel strained and anxious about our gifts.
We cannot give truly if we give more than we can afford.
People have been known to give nothing, because they could not give
something expensive; they have been known to give nothing in order
to avoid the trouble of careful and appropriate selection: but to
refrain from giving for such reasons is as much against the true
spirit of Christmas as is the hurried, excited gift-making of
Even now there is joy in the Christmas time, in spite of the rush
and hurry and selfishness, and the spirit of those who keep the joy
alive by remembering whose birthday it is, serves as leaven all over
First let us remember what Christmas stands for, and then let us try
to realize the qualities of the great personality which gave the day
its meaning and significance,--let us honor them truly in all our
celebrations. If we do this, we shall at the same time be truly
honoring the qualities, and respecting the needs of every friend to
whom we give, and our gifts, whether great or small. will be full of
the spirit of discriminating affection. Let us realize that in order
to give truly, we must give soberly and quietly, and let us take an
hour or more by ourselves to think over our gifts before we begin to
buy or to make them. If we do that the helpful thoughts are sure to
come, and new life will come with them.
A wise man has described the difference between heaven and hell by
saying that in heaven, every one wants to give all that he has to
every one else, and that in hell, every one wants to take away from
others all they have. It is the spirit of heaven that belongs to