Many years ago, I found in a book shop a little book of the Christmas writings of Gilbert Keith Chesterton - The Spirit of Christmas: Stories * Poems * Essays. I've re-read his essays and poems every Christmas for the past twenty years.
In celebration of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, I offer these from the pen of GKC. May this day of Christ's Nativity be a blessed one for you and yours.
The Three Gifts There were three things prefigured and promised by the gifts in the cave in Bethlehem concerning the Child who received them; that He woudl be crowned like a King; that He should be worshipped like a God; and that He should die like a man. And these things would sound like Eastern flattery, were it not for the third.
A Christmas Present A person of great generosity has given me for a Christmas present an enormous resplendent walking-stick - with silver bands, a shiny handle, and all sorts of things I had never heard of. Its splendor, indeed, creates a kind of problem. The walking-stick and I do not suit each other. The only question is, which shall give way? May it not reasonably be supposed that after a few days in my company the walking-stick may take on a more dingy, battered, and comfortable look? Or must I dress up to the walking-stick? In the fairy tales (on which I rely more and more) the touch of a wand can turn the Beast into a beautiful Prince. Perhaps the touch of this stick can turn the beast now under discussion into a beautiful dandy. Already I feel vaguely that I ought to have one neat kid glove with which to hold the stick. From this it is but a step to having good cuffs and shirt-links, and so the creeping paralysis of propriety may crawl up my arms and cover my whole person. In a year or so the stick may have transformed me wholly into its own image. Whether this will ever happen I do not know. What I do know is that if I walk down the streets with the stick at present most people mistake me for a tramp who has stolen a gentleman's walking-stick. After earnest thought, prayer, and meditation, I have come to the conclusion that it is my destiny in life to be a foil to the stick. I am only a background - a gloomy, a rugged background - against which the stick picks itself out in sparkling purity and distinctness. I suppose the strict grammatical definition of a walking-stick is a stick that can walk. I am sure this stick can walk by itself; I am merely a large, florid tassle attached to it. The people of Battersea will merely praise the stick as they see it passing along the street. Then, when their admiration of it is exhausted (if that be conceivable) they may add: ' And how artistic an idea to tie to this walking-stick an ill-dressed and unattractive human being, thus celebrating supremely in an image the victory of the inanimate over the animate.' I exist only in order to throw up the high light upon the lustrous stick. What matters it that I am abased so long as It is exalted. At any rate, this simple resolution to be a background to the stick is much less terrible than the other idea of living up to it.
Today, on Christmas Eve, my family will worship as Christians from all over the world
will do. On most of our minds will be thoughts of the infant Jesus, son
of Mary and Joseph, born in a cattle barn in a grain crib, yet nonetheless
worshiped by visiting shepherds and wise men from the east. While those
thoughts of faith will be on my mind, others thoughts will also spark my
reknown English journalist G. K. Chesterton loved the Christmas season.
Christopher Hollis wrote that Chesterton “thought
that the ultimate nature of truth lay in paradoxes, and above all in the
supreme Christian paradox by which the Creator of the universe was a little
baby, lying in a manger, the child of a human mother.” It is this
paradoxical intersection of eternity with our space and time that will capture
biblical story of the birth of the infant Messiah is familiar to most people
because the images of the story are all around us. We see them in
Christmas sale advertisements, cards, television specials and manger scenes on
church lawns. It is hard to avoid the symbols of Christmas. However, when
we commercialize religious symbols, when make a commercial tie between a
product and the nativity of the Christ-child, we trivialize something that is
important for us as people. For those outside the Christian tradition, it
becomes more difficult to understand the reason for believing in something that
seems superficially sentimental and commercially crass. There is nothing in the
traditional Christmas story that demands that it be subject of commercial
from London a century ago, Chesterton described this paradox in the celebration
“The Christmas season is
domestic; and for that reason most people prepare for it by struggling in
tramcars, standing in queues, rushing away in trains, crowding despairingly
into teashops, and wondering when or whether they will ever get home. I
do not know whether some of them disappear for ever in the toy department or
simply lie down and die in the tearooms; but by the look of them, it quite
likely. Just before the great festival of the home the whole population
seems to have become homeless. It is the supreme triumph of industrial
civilization that, in the huge cities which seem to have far too many houses,
there is a hopeless shortage of housing. For a long time past great
numbers of our poor have become practically nomadic. ... I mean quite the
reverse of irreverance when I say that their only point of resemblance to the
archetypal Christmas family is that there is no room for them in the inn.
Now Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth
of the homeless should be celebrated in every home. But the other sort of
paradox is not intentional and is certainly not beautiful. It is bad
enough that we cannot altogether disentangle the tragedy of poverty. It
is bad enough that the birth of the homeless, celebrated at hearth and altar,
should sometimes synchronize with the death of the homeless in workhouses and
slums. But we need not rejoice in this universal restlessness brought
upon rich and poor alike; and it seems to me that in this matter we need a
reform of the modern Christmas.”
diverting our eyes from the commercialization of Christmas, we can see the
mystery that is this paradox.
you were to write a narrative of a God who comes to earth as a lord and a king,
would this be the way you would enter? I find it infinitely intriguing
that this intersection of eternity with finite space and time would happen in a
small dusty village, far from the power centers of the world, in the form of an
infant, born vulnerable and homeless. No brass bands. No press
releases. No media. Just a star pointing the way for those who were
my family worships on Christmas Eve, I will be thinking about how the worth of
every person was validated in that child. There are no discardable
persons. No one lacks such dignity that their life has no meaning. It is
this central truth that makes the rest of the story so compelling.
in Chesterton’s words, “Glory To God In The Lowest.”
and Good Will to Each of You, in the Name of the Child, Jesus of Nazerath.