Several years ago, we had the privilege of hearing Reverend Harry E. Chase present this Christmas message:
In the beginning, the Lord God made a garden. The name of the garden was Eden. The place of the garden was Earth. Eden is an ancient word meaning “paradise.”
In the collective unconscious of mankind, there remains the strange awareness that once there was a garden; Once there was a goodness, and a peace, and a purity; Once there was an innocence, and a tranquility, and a cleanness to life. Wherever in the world, whenever in time, whomever you ask, men have always known – Deep within the inner recesses of cultural memory, Lost in the mist, shrouded terrain of antiquity, just beyond the historical recordings – men have always known that once there was an Eden; A place, a peace, an innocence, a tranquility, a goodness.
Not only that, but every religion that man has ever known – however pagan or primitive – has always anticipated and clung to the hope . . . that the heaven which lies ahead strongly resembles the Eden, the paradise, that was left behind. The Jewish prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel told of the coming Kingdom of Peace and Joy, where even wild animals would not attack one another. Man has always remembered that once there was an Eden; and man has longed to return.
That’s the reason for the beauty and the charm, the warmth and the universality of Christmas. The whole world celebrates Christmas, not because the whole world believes in Jesus Christ … but because the whole world does want to see and share and experience once again … however briefly, however vicariously, Eden in Winter. Once there was a garden, and man wants to find it again. At Christmastime we do for a while.
That is why radio stations play Christmas Carols without commercials, and television stations present Christmas specials, and department stores pipe-in sacred music, as do bus depots and airports and restaurants . . . everyone wants to see Eden in Winter, everyone wants to know that it is still true.
Even the critics of Christianity – inside Christianity and outside Christianity – want to know again and again that it is true. To my Jewish friends, who may object to too much Christmas I say, “relax, be glad, enjoy. At Christmastime the whole world celebrates the birth of a little Jewish boy. And that little Jewish boy, Jesus, more than anyone else has the power and the possibility of bringing peace to the earth, of restoring the Garden, this Eden in Winter, which we glimpse at Christmastime.”
To my friends – Christian and non-Christian – who complain about the so-called commercialism of Christmas, I can only say, “relax, we are a commercial people … 364 days of the year we are commercial people. Why expect us to be otherwise, instantly, on one day of the year?” This is a commercial culture, because we do not produce what we consume. Whatever we produce and consume and use, whether it be food or clothing, equipment or entertainment … whatever we consume, we buy from someone else. Therefore, we are inescapably commercial. And being commercial does not pre-empt being generous.
To my friends who then question how much must be bought, and how much must be sold, and how commercial must we be, I have a very simple answer. “Not much; because there just isn’t much money, is there?” And isn’t it wonderful … Christmas does not suffer from the lack of money. It may be that what has become the most commercially active season of the year does not suffer from the lack of money. Yet, at the same time, it cannot be purchased for all the money in the world. Christmas is a glimpse of Eden in Winter!
This message comes through the music of Christmas … all the music of Christmas, yet especially two outstanding Christmas songs. “I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas” is the Carol of the Secular World, every bit as much as “Silent Night” is the Carol of the Christian world. “I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know …” is the echo of a memory that once there was a garden, once there was an Eden, once there was a paradise.
Say to the world, the poor, tired and harassed world – the unhappy, overworked, under-loved world – say to the world “Merry Christmas!” “In the name of Jesus, I wish you a Merry Christmas!” Not just “Happy Holidays,” but “Merry Christmas!” Help them to see and to share and to experience, to know and to believe that here we see Eden in Winter. Help them to see that the Christ Child who offers us Eden in Winter … is the Christ Child who offers us Eden for all eternity. “God rest you merry, Gentlemen” Let nothing you dismay! Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, To save us all from Satan’s power, when we were gone astray …” looking for the garden, that Eden in Winter. (c) 1975 Harry E. Chase
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