Getting in the Mood for Christmas


Tarrytown United Methodist Church

Fellowship Class

Dec. 21, 2003

Wayne Danielson

Getting in the Mood for Christmas

Occasionally I run into someone who really does his Christmas shopping early. Usually, it’s a woman. I’ll be talking with her in June or July, and she’ll say “Oh, I have all my Christmas shopping done. The gifts are all wrapped and in the hall closet. I have something for everyone!”

I always want to give such a person a gift of my own – a good swift kick. But that’s mainly envy talking. I envy anyone that well organized, that thoughtful, that foresighted.

But as for me, I’m always late doing my shopping. For one reason or another, it’s almost always a day or two before Christmas when I finally make it to Foleys or Dillards or Sears. The shelves are nearly bare (except for a few Ronco Vegematics or Studfinders left over from last year). The aisles are packed with last-minute bargain hunters. The clerks are positively baring their fangs.

Why don’t I get going a little earlier?

I always have an answer. “I’m just not in the mood for Christmas.”

Not in the mood for Christmas. Have you ever said that to yourself? I think many of us have.

We probably don’t mean much by it. It may be just an excuse for our failure to get up and get busy. But it might mean something more. For Christmas IS a special day, isn’t it? It does have – or should have – a special mood. What is it? What is the Christmas mood?  What is the proper frame of mind for this season when we celebrate Christ’s birth?

First of all, I think we have to accept – accept deep in our hearts – that Christmas is a giving time, not a taking time. It’s not a time for saying, “Did they send us anything last year?” It’s not a time for saying, “Do they deserve it?”  It’s not a time for saying, “Have they earned it?”  God didn’t ask those questions when he gave Jesus to us, and I don’t think we should ask them of one another as we celebrate the anniversary of Our Savior’s birth. We didn’t earn Christ. We didn’t deserve Him. God gave him to us – a pure act of giving that we should try to emulate.

I like this very old bit of wisdom concerning giving at Christmastime:

Whosoever on the night of the nativity of the young Lord Jesus, in the great snows, shall fare forth bearing a succulent bone for a lost and lamenting hound, a wisp of hay for a shivering horse, a cloak of warm raiment for a stranded wayfarer, a garland of bright berries for one who has worn chains, a dish of crumbs for all huddled birds who thought that song was dead, and lush sweetmeats for such babes’ faces as peer from lonely windows,

To him shall be proffered and returned gifts of such an astonishment as will rival the hues of the peacock and the harmonies of heaven, so that though he live to the great age when man goes stooping and querulous because of the nothing that is left in him, yet shall he walk upright and remembering, as one whose heart shines like a great star in his breast.

Yes, giving is part of the mood of Christmas.

A second part is joy.

Too many of us go from day to day in a gloomy frame of mind. Perhaps we have aches and pains. Perhaps our children misbehave. Perhaps our careers are not going as they should. Perhaps others treat us unfairly or discourteously. Perhaps we are just bored, but. sometimes we actually seem to enjoy grumping and grousing.

Gilbert and Sullivan have a character who sings, “Don’t the days seem lank and long when all goes right and nothing goes wrong? Aren’t the days extremely flat when there’s nothing whatever to grumble at?”

Yes, many of us actually seem to enjoy our grouchy personalities. So it is little wonder that when Christmas comes around we greet it like Ebenezer Scrooge in the famous tale by Charles Dickens. You may remember the scene when Scrooge’s nephew pays a Christmas visit to the old man’s office:

“Merry Christmas uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his

“Bah,” said Scrooge. “Humbug!”

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparked and his breath smoked.

“Christmas a humbug, uncle,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “You don’t mean that, I’m sure.”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas. “What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry, you’re poor enough.”

“Come then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be morose! You’re rich enough.”

“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this. Merry Christmas. Out upon a Merry Christmas! What’s Christmas to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with stake of holly through his heart. He should.”

Would you be Scrooge at Christmastime? Or would you rather be filled with joy as children are in this conversation recollected by the poet Dylan Thomas in his wonderful tale, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”?

“Our snow was not only shaken  from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.

With spring eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells.

“You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?”

“I mean that the bells that the children could hear were inside them.”

“I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells.”

“There were church bells, too.”

“Inside them?”

“No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and storks. And they rang their tidings, over the bandaged town, over the frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea. It seemed that all the churches boomed for joy under my window; and the weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence.”

Yes, joy is part of the mood of Christmas.

Part of the mood of Christmas is remembering. One year Grace’s children decorated their Christmas tree. And as they hung the ornaments collected over the years I could hear them talking.

“Oh, I remember when we got this angel.”

“I remember the year I gave this elf to Mom.”

“This champagne cork goes on top – that’s from Mom and Dad’s wedding.”

With each passing year, their Christmas memories grow richer, more meaningful. Yet how short their memories are compared with our long remembrances of Christmases past.

The mood of Christmas remembered lies at the heart of Leonard Clark’s famous Christmas poem, Sounds of Singing:

I had almost forgotten the singing in the streets,

Snow piled up by the houses, drifting

Underneath the door into the warm room,

Firelight, lamplight, the little lame cat

Dreaming in soft sleep on the hearth, mother dozing.

Waiting for Christmas to come, the boys and me

Trudging over blanket fields waving lanterns to the sky.

I had almost forgotten the smell, the feel of it all,

The coming back home, with girls laughing like stars,

Their cheeks, holly berries, me kissing one,

Silent- tongued, soberly, by the long church wall;

Then back to the kitchen table, supper on the white cloth,

Cheese, bread, the home-made wine,

Symbols of the night’s joy, a holy feast.

And I wonder now, years gone, mother gone,

The boys and girls scattered, drifted away with the snowflakes,

Lamplight done, firelight over,

If the sounds of our singing in the streets are still there,

Those old tunes, still praising;

And now, a life-time of Decembers away from it all,

A branch of remembering holly, spears my cheeks,

And I think it may be so;

Yes, I believe it may be so.

Part of the mood of Christmas is peace. Many of our favorite hymns of the season express the peace that Christmas brings – or should bring: “Silent Night, Holy Night,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” --. all those songs express the peace that mysteriously envelopes the earth at Christmas. And this carol, one of the oldest, so old no one can date it, speaks to us down the centuries of the peace of a mother and her child:

I sing of a maiden that is matchless

King of all kings to her son she clings.

He came all so stille; there his mother was

As dew in Aprille that falleth on the grass.

He came all so stille, to his mother’s bower

As dew in Aprille, that falleth on the flower.

He came all so stille; there his mother lay

As dew in Aprille, that falleth on the spray.

Mother and maiden, was never none but she.

Well may such a lady, God’s mother be.

Yes, part of the mood of Christmas is peace. And at this time of year we should all remember the special blessing Jesus reserved for the peacemakers – that they should be called the children of God.

Part of the mood of Christmas is mystery.

Of course we think of the mystery and the excitement of secret plans made, of lumpy packages under the tree with our names on them, or spicy foods being cooked in the kitchen. One woman I remember never shared her recipe for a Christmas apple cake she always made. She would lock the door to the kitchen when she baked it. It was delicious, and everyone hoped she would put the recipe in her will or leave it in her safe deposit box. She didn’t. All of her descendants still think fondly of that cake at Christmas time, if not of her.

But these mysteries are trivial and lighthearted compared with the real mystery of Christ’s birth. Why was he born when he was and where he was? Scholars agree that the whole political, social and economic history of the world began to change at Bethlehem in Judea on that first Christmas. But how? Why? Christ’s message changed the world, of course. But it is also true that he came at a particularly crucial time when the world was also changing. Why? His manner of coming only added to the mystery. He was Immanuel, God with us, The Son of Man, The Incarnate Word. We gave him all these titles, deservedly so. But he came as an ordinary baby, born not as a prince or a king, but as a poor child in a forsaken manger in an obscure Roman province. Why? The mystery and the portent of his birth are expressed in T. S. Eliot’s realistic, evocative poem told by one of the three kings who came to visit. It is many years later, and one of the three kings is remembering the trip:

Journey of the Magi

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls b ringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly.

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

The final part of the mood of Christmas is love – love of home, of family, of children, of one another, of God. To me it seems to be the main part of the mood and the most faithful to the scriptures. After all, the love God bore mankind is what caused Christ to be born. The Bible tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son….” Love was God’s answer to the human question. He had Eden to Adam and Eve; that didn’t work out. He had tried the punishment of the flood, but those who came after were about as bad as those who came before He had given man the Law, through Moses, with meager results, all in all. He had tried exile, captivity, prophets, kings, judges, and miracles – still no basic change. Then he gave Jesus, his son, love, Christmas. Christmas was God’s answer to an old, wicked world.

Now you can say that outwardly things didn’t change all that much. But inwardly, it seems to me that there was a change. After Jesus, after that first Christmas, everything began to be seen in a different light. A new ethic was created -- a new standard of judgment came into being against which all future actions of humankind would be judged. Love, peace, joy, giving, mystery, remembering – all the elements of the mood of Christmas -- became a permanent part of our consciousness, a lasting heritage for people everywhere.

Getting in the mood for Christmas?

To me, it means learning to give, freely and from the heart. It means being joyful, as children are joyful at Christmas. It means finding peace, the peace of God. It means remembering, remembering the warmth, the lights, the poetry, the traditions, and the songs of Christmas. It means loving one another as God loves us. It means just thinking about the mystery of the birth of Jesus, the wonder of it all.

To tell the truth, as followers of Christ, we should be in the mood for Christmas all year long.