A White Christmas
For many in these northern climes it just does not seem like Christmas unless there is a cover of white snow upon the ground.
Our flesh so quickly associates a snow cover with the celebration of Christmas, and then it gives the pre-eminence to the incidental and loses the essential. The white snow on the ground becomes in our thinking essential as a part of Christmas. Its absence detracts from the significance of the holiday for us, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas.
Those who live in warmer climes are not so distracted from the truth, not because they are more spiritual and understand the meaning of Christmas better than we, but because they have not experienced the presence of snow on the ground at Christmas time. These quite quickly would think that snow on the ground in their area would distract from Christmasand make it seem as though it were not time for the holiday at all.
Even then in these areas where snow is so common in December, the holiday is by no means a white Christmas in many respects. In fact it is a most colorful, if not indeed the most colorful of all the holidays. Christmas trees are strung with colored lights here and also in the South. Buildings have their outlines set off with colored lights that shine brilliantly in the cold air, and blink on and off in patterns of color and design. The use of red and green is everywhere to be seen for decorative purposes. It is called the season to be gay. Colorful greetings cards are mailed in staggering numbers and volume. Tinsel and the holly and the ivy are used in abundance to give a little more color to the holiday.
One almost feels ashamed to speak of that drab picture there on the Judean hillside with colorless sheep and even less colorful shepherds, to say nothing of that drab, dull, foul, ill-smelling, wholly undecorated grotto where among donkeys and camels the Christ-Child made His appearance in our world. There were no beautiful, colorful wrappings and ribbons containing a gift for Him. All was commonplace and dull. All lacked the luster that we now try to bring into the picture, not in His fear but in the satisfaction of the flesh.
God's color was there. There was the bright light of the angel of the Lord, and a few moments later that of an host of these pure, white creatures from heaven. There was the colorful message, that at the same time shown with white brilliancy, "Fear not: for, behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." In the darkness of our night of sin the light shone so brightly in those words. For us, who are so black with sin, this was a truth of brilliant whiteness which gives such wonderful significance to Christmas unto us. And the shepherds, who were white with fright, were suddenly engulfed with another heavenly message of glory to God in the highest, and they saw a white flag of peace on earth to the men of God's good pleasure waved before their eyes.
We said a "message," for, although we read in the writings of men of the "song" which the angels sang, we are not told in Scripture that it was a song. They were praising God and "saying" those words which we designate as a song. What music did they sing? O, it was indeed in a major key and not in a minor key, if they sang. It was a most joyous, if not the most joyous melody, with the richest harmony, ever heard on this earth, if their words were set to music by the angels that night. It was not recorded. Men did not remember the melody, if indeed they heard a song. But then it would have been music that cannot be duplicated here below, and music which we shall hear and make only when we are in heaven with this exalted Christ and with those angels.
But the message was one of peace. The white flag which the angels waved before these shepherds, and through them before our eyes, was not a flag of surrender. It was the white flag of victory. Do we not read in Revelation 6 of the white horse, and that He that sat on it went forth conquering and to conquer? White stands there for victory. And do we not again read in Revelation 19 that He Who sat on this white horse is called "Faithful and true, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war?" A verse later we read that His name is "The Word of God." In that light also we must read Revelation 2:17, where we are told that "to him that overcometh" this Babe of Bethlehem, Who now is the Lord of Lords and King of kings, will give "to eat of the hidden manna" and "a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." This does not mean that we receive a name of those who surrender. It means that we receive the name of victor, through Him Who rides this white horse that symbolizes victory, and that we shall sit and reign with Him because He goes forth conquering and to conquer.
Christmas speaks of victory for the Church. It tells us that though our sins be as scarlet we shall be made to be whiter than snow. Christmas declares that He Who is pure and holy, Whose record before God is white and clean, has come to make ours white and clean as well. Ours is a white Christmas because it speaks of this purity, this victory over all sin and evil which is realized for us by the Son of God Who came in our flesh to purge us with hyssop and to make us whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7.
And yet with all the color and brilliancy of our decorations and ornaments, wherewith we "try" to celebrate Christmas, we cover up this Word of God so completely that it is lost sight of, and is covered up without even being missed! Shame on us! Imagine! We cast so much of our light—which is darkness—upon the scene and upon our Christmas celebration that our light actually hides, covers up, blots out the thought and joy of that victory in Christ. Our flesh turnsus from the Christ to that which the flesh can enjoy at this season of the year. Our colors and our lights have nothing for the soul that is troubled with sin. They have nothing to say to the soul that is seeking for salvation. They have that which the world—that cares not one snap of its fingers for salvation or victory over sin, or to be as white as snow in God's sight—can enjoy with us. They provide nothing that needs a rebirth to appreciate. Except a man be born again, he cannot see that white flag of victory which Christmaswaves before us. He can, however, see our colorful decorations and that which takes on such significance for our flesh at Christmas. And the reborn can and do see in all that filth and shame of Bethlehem's grotto and manger beauty, victory and a colorful life of glory before God's face.
Of course, all this color, this earthly beauty of color, is not sinful in itself. But when these are essential for our Christmas celebration and this IS our Christmas celebration, we have lost that joy of that victory; and our Christmas has become a bleak, drab, dark and foreboding day! Its true joy and color, its real happiness and blessedness are covered up and lost. God grant us a white Christmas that fills our hearts with the joy of that new name and white stone of being more than conquerors in Him that loved us even unto death.
The same loss of that joy of the victory in Christ we experience with all of our gift giving. Let it be clearly understood that our gift giving is not a reflection of His gift giving to us. He gave us what we need and could not possibly obtain by our own works. He gave everlasting gifts whose value does not fade the day after its reception. Nor do we ever outgrow or wear out that which He gives. And He gave not to receive something else from us.
If we want to simulate His works let us give to those who cannot give back again to us. Let us prepare a feast for those who go hungry the other days of the year, or have only a few crumbs and the bare necessities of life. Let us strive to make others happy without any thought of happiness coming to us except that of knowing that we are pleasing in God's sight.
This Babe of Bethlehem told us that the poor we always have with us. And this will be the case unto the very end. If we really want to simulate His deeds and walk after His pattern, we can find these poor, even though we live in a land of such affluence and prosperity. And you may be sure that in the future they will be here, next to you and me, in abundance. There are other horses that ride as well as that white horse. There is the black horse of famine, social inequality, of hunger and want. The red horse of war also brings sufferings and robs men of their homes, incomes, food and convenience. These are running today, running throughout the world and are providing us with abundant opportunities to give without expectation of a return gift for our flesh. And we do not need to wait for a day in December in order to wrap up a gift and deliver it. So often we pass this Babe of Bethlehem by in His prison, on His sick bed, in His nakedness and in His hunger. We may, then, be those who some day will ask Him, "When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee not in? or naked, and clothed Thee not? When saw we Thee in prison, and did not minister unto Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick, and came not unto Thee?" How terrible it will be, then, to hear Him say, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me."
What a tremendous amount of money is spent every year on Christmas presents, and then spent upon ourselves, our families, our friends! How quickly our flesh would complain, if we were asked to give the same amount that others might hear that message of the white Christmas of victory in Christ Jesus over the blackness of sin and death! How much it would spoil our Christmas not to get a single present from anyone in our family or among our relatives and friends because we all contributed the amount we otherwise spend for these gifts for the spread of the gospel to the four corners of the earth, and to feed those, and to clothe those who are in need. Would the suggestion strike a joyous response that we either start a Christmas Club account in the bank of our choice to have a sum on hand when next Christmas has arrived to use for such purposes, or to begin setting aside—boys and girls as well—our nickels and dimes, and dollars for those that have need? Or would Christmas take on a new and richer meaning for us than this commercialized day of the flesh?
It IS more blessed to give than to receive. But then it must be giving to those who have need, and must not be adding riches and possessions to those who already are weary of their many gifts.
May God grant you a white Christmas of victory in Christ. And may He take from you the scarlet color of your sins.
Rev. John A. Heys was born on March 16, 1910 in Grand Rapids, MI. He was ordained and installed into the ministry at Hope, Walker, MI in 1941. He later served at Hull, Iowa beginning in 1955. In 1959 he accepted the call to serve the South Holland, IL Protestant Reformed Church. He received and accepted the call to Holland, Michigan Protestant Reformed Church in 1967. He retired from the active ministry in 1980. He entered into glory on February 16, 1998.