The Simplicity of Christmas


As I was reading some Christmas articles by Hal Borland, author of Sundial of the Seasons, I was struck by the following statement: “Not the least of the wonders we commemorate this week was the simplicity surrounding the Birth itself.”

How very true! And if we hold strictly to the commemoration of those events, our so-called Christmas celebrations will be noted for the same simplicity. But it will hardly be so. The world has just about taken matters over in that respect; and, all too often, Christians take up the world’s pattern, making a virtual confusion complex out of the whole thing. Perhaps the term “holiday festivities” is a better description; yet, since the word “holiday” is derived from “holy day,” it is still quite presumptuous to associate much of today’s revelry with Christmas, if we truly mean that it is being done in honor of Jesus the Christ.

In the Bible proper, it does not take many passages to tell the Christmas story. The world wasn’t in on it. They knew nothing of what was going on. In fact, it is amazing how few godly people were permitted to share the blessed event. And whatever fervor those few may have exhibited at the time seems short-lived, unless we turn to our imaginations for more.

Luke goes into some detail, and Matthew considerably less. What there is to read is glorious beyond words, but we must agree that the simplicity of it all was striking. Of course, the visitation of the angels and the guiding star were heavenly spectacles to be wondered at. But the “fanfare” was almost nil.

The settings for the scenes were simple and unembellished—a Judean hillside where sheep and shepherds were the everyday “cast of characters”—a manger in a stable in the backgrounds, and in one of the smaller villages—“the house” where the Wise Men paid their visit, undoubtedly sometime later. The swaddling clothes, the hay-mattressed manger-bassinette, and the sacrifice offering of “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Lev. 12:8), acceptable to God because they were not able to bring a lamb, all added to the sublime simplicity—God condescending to become flesh for a time and to dwell among men

Many have felt that the true spirit of Christmas is almost totally lost in the mountains of religious tradition and heathen customs—and the mingling of the two. Poets and essayists, who apparently know little about the Bible narrative, write things altogether unscriptural and present them as truth. Thousands read them and believe them, never thinking to check them against the written Word of God. And people who have every reason to know better are often heard to misconstrue certain phases of the birth of our Saviour.

Over and over we read of the shepherds following the star; or both the shepherds and the Wise Men being guided by the same star. We read of the angels singing their “Glory to God in the highest” over the manger instead of to the shepherds on the hills of Judea. Again and again we read of the Wise Men arriving in Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth, and while the shepherds were still there; but there is really nothing to indicate that this was the case.

All sorts of imaginary happenings have been set forth as being authentic, seemingly to increase the awesomeness and the mystery surrounding the already beautiful story. The fabricated legend of Saint Nicholas has encompassed the world, under one name or another, and is loudly proclaimed as “harmless” even by thousands of Christians who allot him more glamour than the Christ Child.

Reindeer; fireplaces with stockings hanging by them; wreaths fashioned from pine and holly, fruit, birds, or any sort of gloss and glitter; Christmas feasts; Christmas trees and candles everywhere—all of these, and many, many more, have become indelibly imprinted among the things which are supposed to represent Christmas, the birthday of earth and heaven’s King. In fact, it is very difficult to find (even in many Christian homes) even a trace of the real Christmas story among all the array of other things.

The laughter and merrymaking passed off as legitimate celebration grows louder and more boisterous year by year. It is as though the world were trying to out-shout itself. And, God forbid, but it seems that the children of God feel that they must drown out the worldly din with an even louder one. While we would not condemn an honest hearted try, we have to wonder if, in times like these, it might not be better to “strike a lower key”—one that would be ear-catching for its reverent simplicity and “unlikeness” with the world

After all, there is something to be said for the admonition, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psa. 46:10). Remember, when Elijah couldn’t hear or recognize God in the “great and strong wind,” the “earthquake,” and the “fire,” God spoke to him in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11, 12).

Many people in this world are being driven to mental breakdowns—some of their own even call it “noise pollution.” Now, hold your peace! No sane mortal will ever tell the Church of God to quit shouting and rejoicing—that is, in the Spirit of God. Spirit-filled people are always going to be too full to remain quiet. But if the world is going to monopolize “every key but the low one,” we may have to get the Christmas message through on a different level

Songs like Silent Night and The Night Was Still are among the immortals of inspiration. They bespeak the simplicity of the first Christmas night. They still bring worshipful tears to our eyes and catch us up above the cheap, commercial glitter of this world’s traditional, superficial Christmas. Even that blessed carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, says much to us before we get beyond its title. “Hark!” Be still and listen! Let the angels sing! “Hark!” Give heed to the message they bring. “Hark!” Be still, and let God have a word!

Another writer enhances Hal Borland’s thought with another. Wilferd A. Peterson speaks of the “inside of Christmas.” He presents it as a sort of challenging exploration, made necessary by the more “visible outside of Christmas.” He says, “And when we get inside of Christmas, Christmas will get inside of us.”

If it isn’t there—well—it just isn’t Christmas.

By: R.O. Covey, published in the White Wing Messenger, December 15, 1973
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