Opinion

Christmas sermons past

With the editor taking a few issues off from

sermonizing, who better to turn this space over to than legendary island clergyman the Rev. Vincent Gowen, who in days past sometimes filled in as the voice of the newspaper and provided this Christmas commentary to the Review back in December 1958:

* * * * *

A friend of mine, in a crusty bachelor’s reaction to the unrestrained antics of children aboard the ferry, once suggested that King Herod deserved more credit than we give him, and that the slaughter of the innocents wasn’t such a bad idea.

In the same vein, after listening to Christmas carols canned and circulated for weeks before Christmas, I am inclined to sympathize with Ebenezer Scrooge. In one record shop, I even heard “Hark, the Herald Angels” and a few other standbys jazzed up or bee-bopped – or whatever the proper technical description should be. This was really refreshing, for it was certainly more honest than most of the carolling that we hear, that determination to make us synthetically happy which old Scrooge quite rightly resented.

My complaint is, why can’t we celebrate Christmas at Christmastime, and not spread it over the weeks before, when we should be thinking of what Christmas means? There is only one reason to be happy at Christmas: that is a hope, expressed in the world’s most significant infant, that man is not merely a superior animal doomed by biological pressures to spawn and eat and die and be forgotten, but that he is in touch with the eternal and that his human life can be made worthy to become eternal.

This worthiness demands preparation: it demands that we rid ourselves of certain all-too-common habits, habits of hate and jealousy and malice and gossip and slander, habits of cruelty and the prejudice that springs from ignorance. Four preparatory weeks are not too long to consider how we stack up in these matters. Christmas leads to the cross, to a willingness to make sacrifices for a world we can be proud of.

This is the Christian view of Christmas; if we don’t accept that view, we can’t call it Christmas. We should drop all the picturesque paraphernalia of the Bethlehem manger, the shepherds, the wise men, the Heavenly Choirs, and make our celebration the old pagan Feast of the Sun which Christmas tried to supplant. What we are doing now is killing Christmas with kindness.

We are making men sick of Christmas before it has even come. I am thinking not only of the buying splurge into which we are high-pressured and which could follow its natural cycle under any name, but what troubles me is the rash of Christmas programs in which every organization, large or small, must have its part, voicing its happiness without any clear reason what it is happy about. This simply promotes the fine art of being insincere, an attitude dinned into our ears by every TV commercial.

Old Scrooge had a point: he had to be convinced as to why he should be happy. We don’t need to be grouches to learn this, but Christmas happiness might be longer lasting and more genuine if we restored the four weeks of Advent to their right use, to quiet and meditation, postponing our joyful celebration until we have convinced ourselves of the reason for it. Christmas then might lead to something more inspirational than January White Sales.

If we gave ourselves to it seriously enough, it could lead to Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men.

The Rev. Vincent Gowen

Bainbridge Island Review, Dec. 18, 1958

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