A Little Book for Christmas – Cyrus Townsend Brady

Christmas is one of the great days of obligation and observance in the Church of which I am a Priest; but it is much more than that, it is one of the great days of obligation and observance in the world. Furthermore it is one of the evidences of the power of Him Whose birth we commemorate that its observation is not limited by conditions of race and creed. Those who fail to see in Him what we see nevertheless see something and even by imperfect visions are moved to joy. The world transmutes that joy into blessing, not merely by giving of its substance but of its soul because men perceive that it is for the soul’s good and because they hope to receive its benefits although they well know that giving is far better than receiving, in the very words of Him Who gave us the greatest of all gifts—Himself. As a Priest of the Church, as a Missionary in the Far West, as the Rector of large and important parishes I have been brought in touch with varied life. Christmas in all its phases is familiar to me. The author of many books and stories as well as the preacher of many sermons, it is natural that Christmas should have engaged a large part of my attention. Out of the abundance of material which I have accumulated in the course of a long ministry and a longer life I have gathered here a sheaf of things I have written about Christmas; personal adventures, stories suggested by the old yet ever-new theme; meditations, words of advice which I am old enough to be entitled to give; and last but not least good wishes and good will. I might even call this little volume A Book of Good Will toward Men. And so fit it not only for Christmas but for all other seasons as well. If it shall add to your joy in Christmas, dear reader, and better still, if it shall move you to add to the joy of some one else at Christmas-tide or in any other season, I shall be well repaid for my efforts and incidentally you will also be repaid for your purchase. ————- There was a time when the spirit of Christmas was of the present. There is a period when most of it is of the past. There shall come a day perhaps when all of it will be of the future. The child time, the present; the middle years, the past; old age, the future.

Come to my mind Christmas Days of long ago. As a boy again I enter into the spirit of the Christmas stockings hanging before my fire. I know what the children think to-day. I recall what they feel. Passes childhood, and I look down the nearer years. There rise before me remembrances of Christmas Days on storm-tossed seas, where waves beat upon the ice-bound ship. I recall again the bitter touch of water-warping winter, of drifts of snow, of wind-swept plains. In the gamut of my remembrance I am once more in the poor, mean, lonely little sanctuary out on the prairie, with a handful of Christians, mostly women, gathered together in the freezing, draughty building. In later years I worship in the great cathedral church, ablaze with lights, verdant and fragrant with the evergreen pines, echoing with joyful carols and celestial harmonies. My recollections are of contrasts like those of life—joy and sadness, poverty and ease.

And the pictures are full of faces, many of which may be seen no more by earthly vision. I miss the clasp of vanished hands, I crave the sound of voices stilled. As we old and older grow, there is a note of sadness in our glee. Whether we will or not we must twine the cypress with the holly. The recollection of each passing year brings deeper regret. How many have gone from those circles that we recall when we were children? How many little feet that pattered upon the stair on Christmas morning now tread softer paths and walk in broader ways; sisters and brothers who used to come back from the far countries to the old home—alas, they cannot come from the farther country in which they now are, and perhaps, saddest thought of all, we would not wish them to come again. How many, with whom we joined hands around the Christmas tree, have gone? Circles are broken, families are separated, loved ones are lost, but the old world sweeps on. Others come to take our places. As we stood at the knee of some unforgotten mother, so other children stand. As we listened to the story of the Christ Child from the lips of some grey old father, so other children listen and we ourselves perchance are fathers or mothers too.

Other groups come to us for the deathless story. Little heads which recall vanished halcyon days of youth bend around another younger mother. Smaller hands than ours write letters to Santa Claus and hear the story, the sweetest story ever told, of the Baby who came to Mary and through her to all the daughters and sons of women on that winter night on the Bethlehem hills. And we thank God for the children who take us out of the past, out of ourselves, away from recollections that weigh us down; the children that weave in the woof and warp of life when our own youth has passed, some of the buoyancy, the joy, the happiness of the present; the children in whose opening lives we turn hopefully to the future. We thank God at this Christmas season that it pleased Him to send His beloved Son to come to us as a little child, like any other child. We thank God that in the lesser sense we may see in every child who comes to-day another incarnation of divinity. We thank God for the portion of His Spirit with which He dowers every child of man, just as we thank Him for pouring it all upon the Infant in the Manger. There is no age that has not had its prophet. No country, no people, but that has produced its leader. But did any of them ever before come as a little child? Did any of them begin to lead while yet in arms? Lodges there upon any other baby brow “the round and top of sovereignty?” What distinguished Christ and His Christian followers from all the world? Behold! no mighty monarch, but “a little child shall lead them!” You may see through the glass darkly, you may not know or understand the blessedness of faith in Him as He would have you know it, but there is nothing that can dim the light that radiates from that birth in the rude cave back of the inn.

Ah, it pierces through the darkness of that shrouding night. It shines to-day. Still sparkles the Star in the East. He is that Star. There is nothing that can take from mankind—even doubting mankind—the spirit of Christ and the Christmas season. Our celebrations do not rest upon the conclusions of logic, or the demonstrations of philosophy; I would not even argue that they depend inevitably or absolutely upon the possession of a certain faith in Jesus, but we accept Christmas, nevertheless; we endeavour to apply the Christmas spirit, for just once in the year; it may be because we cannot, try as we may, crush out utterly and entirely the divinity that is in us that makes for God. The stories and tales for Christmas which have for their theme the hard heart softened are not mere fictions of the imagination. They rest upon an instinctive consciousness of a profound philosophic truth. What is the unpardonable sin, I wonder? Is it to be persistently and forever unkind? Does it mean perhaps the absolute refusal to accept the principle of love which is indeed creation’s final law? The lessons of the Christmastide are so many; the appeals that now may be made to humanity crowd to the lips from full minds and fuller hearts. Might we not reduce them all to the explication of the underlying principle of God’s purpose to us, as expressed in those themic words of love with which angels and men greeted the advent of the Child on the first Christmas morning, “Good will toward men?” Let us then show our good will toward men by doing good and bringing happiness to someone—if not to everyone—at this Christmas season.

Put aside the memories of disappointments, of sorrows that have not vanished, of cares that still burden, and do good in spite of them because you would not dim the brightness of the present for any human heart with the shadows of old regrets. Do good because of a future which opens possibilities before you, for others, if not for yourselves. Brethren, friends, all, let us make up our minds that we will be kindly affectioned one to another in our homes and out of them, on this approaching Christmas day. That the old debate, the ancient strife, the rankling recollection, the sharp contention, shall be put aside, that “envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness” shall be done away with. Let us forgive and forget; but if we cannot forget let us at least forgive. And so let there be peace between man and man at Christmas—a truce of God. Let us pray that Love shall come as a little child to our households. That He shall be in our hearts and shall find His expression in all that we do or say on this birthday of goodness and cheer for the world. Then let us resolve that the spirit of the day shall be carried out through our lives, that as Christ did not come for an hour, but for a lifetime, we would fain become as little children on this day of days that we may begin a new life of good will to men. Let us make this a new birthday of kindness and love that shall endure.

That is a Christmas hope, a Christmas wish. Let us give to it the gracious expression of life among men. FROM A FAR COUNTRY Being a New Variation of an Ancient Theme A STORY FOR GROWN-UPS I “A certain man had two sons”—so begins the best and most famous story in the world’s literature. Use of the absolute superlative is always dangerous, but none will gainsay that statement, I am sure. This story, which follows that familiar tale afar off, indeed, begins in the same way. And the parallelism between the two is exact up to a certain point. What difference a little point doth make; like the little fire, behold, how great a matter it kindleth! Indeed, lacking that one detail the older story would have had no value; it would not have been told; without its addition this would have been a repetition of the other. When the modern young prodigal came to himself, when he found himself no longer able to endure the husks of the swine like his ancient exemplar, when he rose and returned to his father because of that distaste, he found no father watching and waiting for him at the end of the road! Upon that change the action of this story hangs. It was a pity, too, because the elder brother was there and in a mood not unlike that of his famous prototype. Indeed, there was added to that elder brother’s natural resentment at the younger’s course the blinding power of a great sorrow, for the father of the two sons was dead.

He had died of a broken heart. Possessed of no omniscience of mind or vision, he had been unable to foresee the long delayed turning point in the career of his younger son and death came too swiftly to enable them to meet again. So long as he had strength, that father had stood, as it were, at the top of the hill looking down the road watching and hoping. And but the day before the tardy prodigal’s return he had been laid away with his own fathers in the God’s acre around the village church in the Pennsylvania hills. Therefore there was no fatted calf ready for the disillusioned youth whose waywardness had killed his father. It will be remembered that the original elder brother objected seriously to fatted calves on such occasions. Indeed, the funeral baked meats would coldly furnish forth a welcoming meal if any such were called for. For all his waywardness, for all his self-will, the younger son had loved his father well, and it was a terrible shock to him (having come to his senses) to find that he had returned too late. And for all his hardness and narrowness the eldest son also had loved his father well—strong tribute to the quality of the dead parent—and when he found himself bereft he naturally visited wrath upon the head of him who he believed rightly was the cause of the untimely death of the old man. As he sat in the study, if such it might be called, of the departed, before the old-fashioned desk with its household and farm and business accounts, which in their order and method and long use were eloquent of his provident and farseeing father, his heart was hot within his breast.

Grief and resentment alike gnawed at his vitals. They had received vivid reports, even in the little town in which they dwelt, of the wild doings of the wanderer, but they had enjoyed no direct communication with him. After a while even rumour ceased to busy itself with the doings of the youth. He had dropped out of their lives utterly after he passed over the hills and far away. The father had failed slowly for a time, only to break suddenly and swiftly in the end. And the hurried frantic search for the missing had brought no results. Ironically the god of chance had led the young man’s repentant footsteps to the door too late. “Where’s father?” cried John Carstairs to the startled woman who stared at him as if she had seen a ghost as, at his knock, she opened the door which he had found locked, not against him, but the hour was late and it was the usual nightly precaution: “Your brother is in your father’s study, sir,” faltered the servant at last. “Umph! Will,” said the man, his face changing. “I’d rather see father first.

” “I think you had better see Mr. William, sir.” “What’s the matter, Janet?” asked young Carstairs anxiously. “Is father ill?” “Yes, sir! indeed I think you had bettor see Mr. William at once, Mr. John.” Strangely moved by the obvious agitation of the ancient servitor of the house who had known him from childhood, John Carstairs hurried down the long hall to the door of his father’s study. Always a scapegrace, generally in difficulties, full of mischief, he had approached that door many times in fear of well merited punishment which was sure to be meted out to him. And he came to it with the old familiar apprehension that night, if from a different cause. He never dreamed that his father was anything but ill.

He must see his brother. He stood in no little awe of that brother, who was his exact antithesis in almost everything. They had not got along particularly well. If his father had been inside the door he would have hesitated with his hand on the knob. If his father had not been ill he would not have attempted to face his brother. But his anxiety, which was increased by a sudden foreboding, for Janet, the maid, had looked at him so strangely, moved him to quick action. He threw the door open instantly. What he saw did not reassure him. William was clad in funeral black. He wore a long frock coat instead of the usual knockabout suit he affected on the farm.

His face was white and haggard. There was an instant interchange of names. “John!” “William!” And then— “Is father ill?” burst out the younger. “Janet said—” “Dead!” interposed William harshly, all his indignation flaming into speech and action as he confronted the cause of the disaster. “Dead! Good God!” “God had nothing to do with it.” “You mean?” “You did it.” “I?” “Yes. Your drunken revelry, your reckless extravagance, your dissipation with women, your unfeeling silence, your—” “Stop!” cried the younger. “I have come to my senses, I can’t bear it.” “I’ll say it if it kills you.

You did it, I repeat. He longed and prayed and waited and you didn’t come. You didn’t write. We could hear nothing. The best father on earth.” The younger man sank down in a chair and covered his face with his hands. “When?” he gasped out finally. “Three days ago.” “And have you—” “He is buried beside mother in the churchyard yonder. Now that you are here I thank God that he didn’t live to see what you have become.

” The respectable elder brother’s glance took in the disreputable younger, his once handsome face marred—one doesn’t foregather with swine in the sty without acquiring marks of the association—his clothing in rags. Thus errant youth, that was youth no longer, came back from that far country. Under such circumstances one generally has to walk most of the way. He had often heard the chimes at midnight, sleeping coldly in the straw stack of the fields, and the dust of the road clung to his person. Through his broken shoes his bare feet showed, and he trembled visibly as the other confronted him, partly from hunger and weakness and shattered nerves, and partly from shame and horror and for what reason God only knew. The tall, handsome man in the long black coat, who towered over him so grimly stern, was two years older than he, yet to the casual observer the balance of time was against the prodigal by at least a dozen years. However, he was but faintly conscious of his older brother. One word and one sentence rang in his ear. Indeed, they beat upon his consciousness until he blanched and quivered beneath their onslaught. “Dead—you did it!” Yes, it was just.

No mercy seasoned that justice in the heart of either man. The weaker, selfaccusing, sat silent with bowed head, his conscience seconding the words of the stronger. The voice of the elder ran on with growing, terrifying intensity. “Please stop,” interposed the younger. He rose to his feet. “You are right, Will. You were always right and I was always wrong. I did kill him. But you need not have told me with such bitterness. I realized it the minute you said he was dead.

It’s true. And yet I was honestly sorry. I came back to tell him so, to ask his forgiveness.” “When your money was gone.”

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