I imagine many of you are sitting here tonight with great hopes that Santa is planning to bring something special tonight to help us celebrate Jesus’ birth.  Is that right? Is anybody wishing for something special?

Let’s say Santa brings you the very thing you are hoping for, or something else that will surprise and delight you.  I wonder, what will you do with it?  Will you open it?  Will you hold it?  Will you use it?  And how long do you think you will keep it?  Will you give it back to Santa when Christmas is over?  Will you put it back under the tree, hoping he will take it away when it’s time for the Christmas decorations to come down in twelve days?

No?  You want to keep it?  Oh.  And you want to use it, not just look at it?  You don’t want to put it on a shelf and look at it for a little bit and then pack it up?

Me too.  That’s my hope.  I hope that tomorrow I get to open something that I will use for a long time, that it will be something that will bring me a bit of joy and remind me of the generosity of God it is meant to represent every day.

I would like to keep what Santa brings, not just observe it.

And, yet, I was reminded when attending Christmas at the Pops this year, that we often put a great deal of effort into observing Christmas, but not in keeping it.  Unlike the gifts we share, Christmas is often something we are willing to pack up and put away, back into the attic until next year.  

We observe Christmas, but we don’t always keep Christmas.

I attended Christmas at the Pops this year and the conductor, Keith Lockhart pointed out that Scrooge, in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, is described at the end by Dickens that he “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any [one] alive possessed the knowledge.”

Lockhart went on to read a portion of Henry Van Dyke’s Christmas Sermon, “Keeping Christmas.”  It was written in 1913, though as I hear the words echo in Symphony Hall, they could have been written on this very night.  

Van Dyke writes, “But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; … to see that your fellow-men [and women] are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness--are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;

to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open--are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world--stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death--and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you keep it for a day, why not always?1

One of my favorite Verna Dozier quotes, as many of you know, is her question to us, “Do you want to follow Jesus, or are you content just to worship him?” 2

On this Christmas Eve, I would ask us to consider, “Do we wish to keep Christmas, or are we content just to observe it?”

This year, no matter what decorations adorn our homes, no matter what month the calendar tells us it is, long after the toys have been forgotten, or broken, let us keep Christmas.  No matter the headlines, no matter the rhetoric, let us keep Christmas.  

Let us keep the light, the hope, the joy, the mercy and the peace that we observe born on this night. Let us keep it every night.  Let us keep it every day, until everyday is as full of the experience of God’s love among us as this one is.


© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello 3


1. Henry van Dyke, A Short Christmas Sermon: Keeping Christmas.

2. Verna Dozier, The Dream of God. p. 109.

3. While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here:  David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina.

Click to login to St. Paul's Realm

Don't enter user/password below for Realm.

Below is for St. Paul's website login only

Website Login


Get weekly newsletter emailed to you each week!

catchme refresh