Hold Tight To Christmas! – Walter A. Maier (historic sermon 1893-1950)
“Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” –Luke 2:19
This last Sunday in December reminds us in the increasing rush of time that we are all a milestone closer to the grave, twelve months, which we can never again regain and relive, nearer eternity. Only a few more Christmases for most of you, no more for some of you, and life, with all its unrealized hopes and unfulfilled ambitions, will be over! We are living in the fastest tempo history has known; therefore we are under the heaviest pressure. Hurry and swiftness are the watchwords of this speed-it-up generation, with the result that our whole existence is being snatched away more rapidly than we realize.
With this high tension, increased during war’s emergencies (when ships, formerly made in many months, are now launched after a few days; when mighty military camps with a total area larger than some of our entire States spring up almost overnight); with this amazing rapidity, comes the danger that we too quickly dismiss eternal truths from our minds. Here it is only the second day after the anniversary of our Savior’s birth, and thou- sands of people throughout the country are busily at work in department stores, removing all signs of Christmas, In our homes, after a short week or two, the outward evidences of this radiant day will similarly disappear, and in too many hearts the magnificence of the Nativity mercy will be lost.
Added to this is the growing indifference by which the blessings of the Savior’s birth are carelessly taken for granted. Some people drive over the bridge at Niagara Falls and seldom look at that mighty spectacle, one of the world’s wonders. They have seen it too often to be thrilled by its grandeur. A transcontinental passenger, traveling by train through the Rocky Mountains, writes that everyone in the car was visibly moved by the magnificent panorama, except one woman, who hardly raised her eyes from her book. Later she explained: “This is the thirteenth time I have crossed the mountains. The first time I could not keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks, so impressed was I. But now I have known it so well that I frequently go through the whole range with scarcely a glance out of the window.” Similarly, as Christmas follows Christmas, many of you think that you know the whole story, because you have heard it so often, when in truth you can never begin to exhaust the treasures of its grace. The most deep-rooted enemy of American Christianity in our time is not the brazen atheist who boldly brandishes his blasphemy, for only “the fool hath said . . ., There is no God”; not the sarcastic Modernist who often preaches only to a handful of people; not the down-with-religion Communist who threatens to destroy our churches, for God laughs at this bombastic boasting. As menacing as all these opponents of our faith may be, the most dangerous enemies of the Redeemer’s Gospel are the easy-going, self-confident Americans within the churches and without who hear Heaven’s invitation and then quickly dismiss it from their minds to live and act as though there were no Savior, no Christmas with its message, “God” is “manifest in the flesh.” These, I repeat, are the most dangerous foes because they are counted by the millions.
Now to all of you who are hurrying madly through life, with no time for the Holy Child, no heart-and-soul interest in the promise of His redemption, I say, in His name and with the plea that involves your salvation, your blessed eternity, your promise of heaven, Celebrate the Savior’s birthday every day! Take as your example our Lord’s mother, of whom it is written that after the first Christmas had come and gone, after the shepherds had worshiped and departed, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”! (Luke, chapter two, verse nineteen.)
Constantly keep the Christmas Truth!
How noble and outstanding the Virgin Mary was! While we dare not endorse the error of some who have made her almost equal to God Himself, called her, in effect, the promised deliverer o the human race, we must not descend to the other extreme which regards her only as an average Palestinian mother. Twice, in the words of angels and men, does the Bible call her “blessed…among women.” We dare not detract from that or go beyond it. She who bore our Lord Jesus should be an example of excellency for all women.
Therefore we plead: Women of America, follow Mary! Remember that God has made you, the wives, mothers, daughters, of this country the guardians of much that is best and highest. If you fail us, the loss will be irreparable. The forces of hell are working in unbroken shifts, using the emergencies of war for a systematic attack on Christian womanhood. Too often their unholy assaults have been successful. Think of the girls lined up at tavern bars, elbow to elbow with men! Recall the startling increase in drunkenness among women! Hear the reports of growing profanity in large industrial plants! Behold the evidence of shocking immorality, cunningly practiced in the name of patriotism, and then ask God to give you a constant vision of Christmas and the glorious heights to which womanhood was exalted when Mary became the mother of the world’s Savior!
Especially, however, should we all follow Mary in her faith. She knew more about the birth of Christ than any other person on earth; and unfalteringly she trusted the Almighty. It is recorded of her in Scripture, “Blessed is she that believed.” There were mysteries for Mary at the manger, promises she could hardly understand. The angel had told her that her Babe was to be the Son of God; yet He came into the world amid abject poverty; and the first to adore Him were not priests or church-men, but lowly shepherds. She had been assured that her Child would “save His people from their sins” and that His coming brought “good tidings of great joy” for “all people”; still was her Son not born an outcast? Only once in the whole marvelous story of her motherhood did she inquire, “How shall this be?”
We need that same trusting faith. I shall not argue or debate with you at length questions concerning the incarnation, the virgin birth, Christ’s two natures, and other truths which surpass our powers of understanding; I simply ask you to approach the whole Christmas record with an unbiased mind and permit facts to convince you. Daniel Webster and Rufus Choate were once the opposing counsels in a famous trial where the point of contention was the resemblance of two car wheels. Any open-minded person would have said that the wheels were essentially the same, made from one model. Nevertheless, Choate in a long, intricate oration, filled with technicalities and complicated arguments, sought to convince the members of the jury that they ought to overrule the verdict of their own eyes and decide that the wheels were different. When Webster arose in reply, he pointed to the wheels and said: “Gentlemen of the jury, there they are. Look at them!” Those six words completely shattered Choate s elaborate argument Similarly, to you who have been uncertain as to the truth of the Christmas story; to you college men and women with questioning minds; to you light seekers who have been misled by some boisterous, blaring infidel; to every doubter I say, pointing to the evidences of Christ’s truths in the world about us: “There they are. Look at them: Hellholes of heathendom transformed into model communities; savages become servants of God; cannibals changed into confessors of Jesus; sinners remade into saints; drunkards reborn into decent men and women! There it is. Look at it; the whole Christian Church!
A thousand times the Savior’s enemies have sworn that they would destroy His kingdom, but a thousand times they have been defeated. Repeatedly infidels have boasted that Christianity had been wiped out for all time. Today it is stronger than ever! Do not insist that modern research and culture have disproved our faith. Scientists, even the greatest of them, can be wrong. Most of you have heard of Sir Isaac Newton, often called the prince of scientists. It is claimed that when that great man of learning came to grips with a practical issue of life, the problem of enabling his cats to enter the barn, he did not hesitate to cut two holes in the door, a large hole for the large cat, and a small hole for the small cat! Now, if scientific leaders make such mistakes in the trivialities of life, why should we be concerned about their denials of divine truth?
Always keep in mind, too, that many outstanding leaders in human thought have declared themselves humble and sincere followers of the Savior. Listen to testimonies like these, not from uncultured circles but from American universities, and not from any insignificant instructor, but from presidents and deans, men chosen for leadership because of their exceptional qualifications: President Thompson, Ohio State University: “The Christian hope, a living hope, begotten in us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, satisfies, inspires, and comforts. … I am a Christian because the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . . brings me a satisfying message for the life that now is and a sure hope for that which is to come”! President Burton, Smith. College: “In His infinite patience with sinners, in His divine forgiveness for those who harmed Him, in His terrible suffering and death, Jesus . . . says there is a God that hates sin, that this God is our Father, and that we are His children”! President Wheeler, University of California: “The Bible must be read more and studied more and taken more deeply into the life of every Christian. We cannot do without it. It is the heart of our faith”! Dean Rogers, University of Michigan: “I heartily accept the Bible as the Word of God and sincerely believe Jesus Christ is the Savior of men”! President Wayland of Brown University: *1 place no dependence on anything but the righteousness and death of Jesus Christ”! President Finley, Princeton University: “I triumph through Christ”! President Cyrus Northrop of Minnesota University: “I shall uphold Christianity as the religion which is to save the world”! If these and many other heads of outstanding universities have followed Mary’s simple and trusting faith, what keeps you from kneeling humbly before the newborn Rescuer of the race?
Mary did not merely listen to the Christmas message and then forget it. We read in plain, one-syllable words, that after Jesus was born she “kept all these things,” the startling promises concerning the Holy Child, “in her heart!’ We likewise must hold tight to the Christmas blessing even after the evergreen and decorations have been removed. The benedictions of our Savior’s birth are far too great to be restricted by the short span of twenty-four hours. You cannot put the Atlantic into a drinking glass; even less can you crowd the glories of His incarnation into a single day. When Paula, a fifth-century Christian, came to Bethlehem, she knelt at the reputed site of the manger and exclaimed: “I see the divine Infant wrapped in His swaddling clothes. I hear my Lord crying in His cradle.” Then, quoting in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as the verses came to her mind, she recalled all the prophetic passages which dealt with His coming and concluded: “Have I, a miserable sinner, been permitted to kiss the cradle where my Savior uttered His first cry? Have I been counted worthy to offer my prayers in this cave, where the Virgin Mary brought forth my Lord? Here shall be my rest, for it is the country of my Lord. Here will I dwell, since my Savior chose it.” While it is neither possible nor advisable for you now to make a pilgrimage to Palestine, by faith you can constantly keep close to the Christ Child. Accept Him as your Redeemer now! Take Him with you tomorrow when you go to work, when you march or drill., when you who must travel begin your journey! Let every day re-echo the rejoicing of the first Christmas: “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord”!
On this last Sunday of a year which not only reminds us of our steady approach either to hell, but which also serves as a time for spiritual inventory, look deep down into your souls! Many of you, I know, will admit that, unlike Mary, you have not kept the Christmas truth. You have lost the greatest treasure you can ever own. You had God-fearing parents. They taught you to believe that Jesus came to save you. You prayed to Him, and for years you trusted Him. Then something tragic happened. Usually it was prosperity, with pleasure seeking, luxurious living, the quick, easy making of money that crowded Him from your life; and though many of you seem successful in the sight of man, you are bankrupt in the eyes of the Almighty, because you have not kept Christ Before it is too late and think of the sudden deaths during the past days: boulders hurtling down a Pennsylvania hill to destroy almost all the passengers in a large bus; a family, driving to Christmas exercises in a public school, killed in a crash with an onrushing train; a commanding general in Africa shot down by an assassin’s bullet these and hundreds of other deaths, without mentioning the heroic sacrifices on the field of battle, appeal to you personally: “Delay not! Delay not! Come to the infant Redeemer contritely, confessing your sins, trusting Him completely! He will forgive, restore and strengthen you to keep His glorious Gospel!” This week a letter from Texas told me that a man who grew up in the shadow of our Seminary and who was once ardent in the faith but for more than twenty-five years without Jesus and against Him has now been reclaimed for the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit using this mission of the air. May the same Comforter now speak living words of invitation and appeal into many hearts throughout this land into your soul, even if you have turned from Jesus thirty-five, forty-five, fifty-five or more years ago! Come back to the manger during this radiant Christmas season with the holy resolve that, God’s Spirit sustaining you, you will guard every assurance of the Savior’s love as your priceless possession! Keep Christ in your family circle! Fathers, think of Mary, a weak woman with outstanding strength of devotion; and before the old year closes, resolve with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”! Keep the Gospel in your churches! Keep Christ on the air! Battle determinately against every sinister, un-American, anti-Christian movement that would bar broadcasts like our Bringing Christ to the Nations in a day when our boys are shedding their blood to preserve the freedom of religion!
Constantly ponder the Christmas Blessing!
Mary not only “kept all these things” as a person treasures a costly jewel or a rare painting, but we know that she also “pondered them in her heart.” Constantly her thoughts dwelt on the angel’s promise that her son was God’s Son, a King whose rule would know no end. He would be called “Jesus” the wonderful name which means “Savior.” Household duties, of course, demanded much of her time. Her Child needed her motherly care. There were no servants in Joseph’s humble home. Mary did all the cooking and baking, the cleaning and mending, the spinning and weaving. She never neglected her domestic tasks; yet she found time constantly to reflect on divine mercy. Not a day passed at Bethlehem, on the difficult flight into Egypt and the hazardous return journey, in the Nazareth household, without having her thoughts wing their way back to that first Christmas.
Here, too, Mary is a model for all Christian wives and mothers. Ten times as many women work in war industry today as a year ago; and while we pay tribute to their patriotism, this change brings acute problems to religious and home life. We read of children, locked in a room, burned to death while their parents worked at a defense plant. Much more widespread is the increase of domestic trouble owing to the mother’s absence from the family. No wife should unnecessarily take the place of an unmarried worker; the Government must do more to provide adequate practical help and direction for the children of defense workers. How tragic to win the war on the battle front but lose it on the home front. The mother who keeps her house tidy, sees to it that her has warm, well-cooked meals when he comes home from work, keeps her children clean, their clothing neat and mended, their manners courteous and polite, their souls turned to the Lord Jesus, and still takes time, like Mary, to ponder the promise of divine love, is rendering a service to American morale which, although often unrecognized and unapplauded, is as necessary as any uniformed service to which women are admitted.
God give us all much more of that pondering spirit, for too often people refuse to consider personally, seriously, unbiasedly, the claims of Christ on their souls! You may smile indulgently at the Scotch woman who, too poor ever to have seen any paper money, received letters from her soldier son containing bank notes, which she thought were simply pretty pictures. But are not many of you guilty of far more serious misunderstandings? You received many Christmas greeting cards, some of them, I feel sure, with pictures of Bethlehem’s Babe and words of Scripture. Did you take time to ponder the meaning of that Child, to read and believe those passages? They are divine promissory notes, these Bible truths, which pledge, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The bank of heaven always keeps its pledge; yet they meant nothing to you.
What do you suppose helped Mary daily recall the remarkable happenings of the first Christmas? She was no superwoman, she was flesh and blood as you are; and with God’s help you can do what she did. Continually she thought of the Lord Jesus because she had the Christ Child with her day and night. She herself nursed that holy Infant Her own hands bathed and clothed Him. She sang Him to sleep with her own lullabies. She cuddled Him to her breast, fondled Him with her arms, kissed Him with her lips. Her precious Babe was constantly before her to remind her every moment of God’s marvelous mercy. You, too, can keep the Savior before you in the repeated promises of His Word. Within the covers of your Scripture is the whole story of salvation told so plainly that even a child can find its way to heaven. Read it! Ponder it!
As the old year hastens on to its end, may you who have not lived it with Jesus realize that you have had time for yourself but not for Christ; time for your body but not for your soul; time for amusement but not for spiritual growth; time for sin but not for grace; time for falsehood but not for truth; time for Satan but not for the Savior; time to cause others untold suffering but not to bring them happiness; time to read unclean stories and lust-laden magazines but not to read the Word of God and clean, constructive literature; time to drive your soul to hell but no time to find the one way to heaven in the Christ Child. Before these twelve months run out into the unchangeable past of all history, I plead with you: For your soul’s salvation take time, blessed time, to behold that Babe long and lovingly! Ask yourself: “Who is this Child of Bethlehem, and what does He mean to me?” Out of the miracle and the mercy of divine love comes the answer “He is your God, the almighty Lord of the universe, who loved you with the divine affection that made Him come into the world to take your place in fulfilling the divine Law you have broken, to become your Substitute in removing the curse of death, your Ransom in paying the debt of sin you by yourself could never pay!” Repeat the questions: ‘Who is this Holy Child? What is He to me?” And the divine Word replies, “He is your Savior,” whose unlimited, unconditioned, unpurchasable pardon and peace are granted you without payment or price, freely and forever.*’ Inquire again: “Who is this cradled Child? What does He mean to me?” And divine truth responds, “He is your Friend, who helps when human friends give way, whose love kindles the warmth of comfort, the hope of deliverance, the assurance of heavenly joy in all life’s heaviness and sorrow.” Put the pointed question once more, “Who is this Child, predicted by prophets and proclaimed by angels?” O my fellow redeemed, as the embers of the dying year burn in their last brightness, listen closely, every one of you, my countrymen at home and abroad, you men and women in the armed forces who hear these messages on the firing lines of the Pacific, in the lonely outposts of the Aleutians, on the bleak Alaskan frontiers, in remote sections of our own country, in Canada, Mexico, the West Indies, South America, the British Isles, and in other distant places this Child is your Ransom from ruin, your resistance to temptation, your Path to purity, your Promise of a new and better life on this earth, your Pledge of resurrection glory in heaven! Keep Him, and He will keep you, through life’s fleeting years and death’s darkness, safe for a radiant eternity. We ask this old and new year’s blessing confidently, for we plead in His blessed name. Amen.