Note -- This special message was written by our cousin and family historian, Allen Edward Harbaugh (nicknamed "Al-Ed-Ha" and "The Mountain Poet."). He read it aloud at the Indian Creek Baptist Church on Christmas Day 1888 and it was so well received that it "was immediately ordered to be printed" in the Uniontown Genius of Liberty.
Again we are preparing our Christmas greetings and our Christmas presents. How the years do come and go! Another year older; another year's work nearly done; another Christmas time to celebrate; another season of merry making and joy. What a blessed, happy time is Christmas! What a time of family reunions, social parties, presents and good cheer! But, while we share these delights, let us not forget those whose homes may be cheerless, whose friends are few and whose trials are many. We make friends among the angels in heaven when we help and cheer the poor of earth. Let us each try to do something to remember us until Christmas comes again. The word Christmas is derived from two words, Christ and Mass, and is intended to convey the idea that Christ was born on the 25th day of December.
Many learned writers of sacred works differ in opinion concerning the exact date of Christ's birth, placing the supposed time in any month of the year; in fact, all seasons of the year are represented,--the gentle spring, beautiful summer, mellow autumn and hoary winter. According to best authority, Jesus chose to be born about mid-winter, a few days after the sun had reached the lowest point of the zodiac (capricorsus), and when he was already some days on his return to that position of the heavens where his heat grows stronger, and his light grows brighter and the day grows longer; a sign full of consolation, for, as everything in nature owes its existence to the light and warmth of the sun, so is man dependent for the life of his soul on his union with God. By sin, man had dissolved this union with God, fled from the rays of this sun which now, for the first time in four thousand years, begins to draw near him again, and by his light and warmth, to diffuse life and joy amongst all.
For this reason our Savior chose to be born at this season of the year, when in Rome the heathens were holding their public games in honor of the "Conquering Sun," otherwise the Birth of the Sun. Christ has truly said of himself: "I am the Light of the world; he who followeth me shall not walk in darkness." Yet Jesus selected the darkness and silence--the solemn hour of midnight for the hour of his birth. Midnight darkness was a fit emblem of the spiritual condition of the human family. The spiritual night had reached its darkest hour, when the gates of heaven were suddenly thrown open, and on a plain situated in the middle of the three continents (Judea,) a miraculous light shone, and the Light of light was born in form of man. Consider if any other hour could have been more appropriately chosen to express the grace-laden meaning of the birth of Christ, than the solemn hour of midnight. May the same light lead us through the gloom of life, comfort us in the hour of death and save us from eternal darkness!
Could it be by mere accident that our Savior was born, not in the home of his parents at Nazareth, but during the pilgrimage to Bethlehem? By no means. Jesus chose to be born in Bethlehem, the renowned city of David, not only to verify the ancient prophecies, and to prove himself to be the real David, the glorious King of the New Testament, but also to remind us of the important and oft-forgotten truth, that man here below has no permanent home, that our whole life is but a journey, a short pilgrimage to our true and everlasting home in heaven.
Our Savior chose to be born in a stable, where shepherds sheltered their sheep in stormy weather. He made his choice in order to teach mankind at the very hour of the Savior's birth, that Christ is the Good Shepherd come to seek the lost sheep, and, if necessary, ready to lay down his life. The manger, which is the receptacle of the food given to the sheep, means that Jesus is our food, our strength, the bread of life, manna from heaven, our chief and only spiritual maintenance.
As the hour of midnight drew near, a flood of celestial light pervaded the stable. The bleak and gloomy roof and sides of stone were lost in a flood of glory, and disappeared from view. The gates of heaven were thrown wide open, and from before the throne of Divine Majesty hosts of heavenly spirits winged their way to earth, that the promise of the Holy Ghost might be fulfilled. "All the angels of God shall adore Thee," yes, they were sent to pay homage to the Savior, for at this moment the King of kings, glowing like the sun, came forth from his bridal chamber. The Son of God is born a man; and, bathed in an affluence of celestial light, outshining the glory of Mary and the brightness of the angels, reposes a miracle babe before his kneeling mother. For an instant, the newly made mother was lost in heavenly ecstatic contemplation. A feeble wail from the lips of the child of heaven and of earth, awoke its mother from her trance.
O, the indescribable, ravishing paroxysm of joy that seized her mother-heart, as her eye fell upon her own child, and yet upon her King and Lord! What ardent words of adoration as she looks upon her God and Creator! Prostrate upon the ground, she kisses the feet of her child, for he is her Creator; she kisses his hands, for he is her Lord and King. Again she imprints ardent kisses upon his infant lips, for this God and Creator, this Lord and King, is in reality her own treasure, her own child, her only, first born son. Joseph, who had seen in spirit the meaning of the divine mystery, now arises solemnly and draws near the divine infant. He falls down and adores; joy and reverence fill his heart, tears of gladness bedew his cheeks, words of gratitude escape his trembling lips, and his soul is unable to contain the joy which overflows it.
Mary now wrapped the child in swaddling garments and laid it on some straw in the manger, whilst the armies of the angels rejoice, for everlasting salvation is come to men. The Psalmist had sung prophetically, "Zion heard and was glad, adore him all you his angels." Who can describe this joy of Zion--of the heavenly Jerusalem? What indescribable, festive joy there must have been in the celestial heights, when the eternal Father proclaimed to Seraphim and Cherubim, to all the choirs of angels, that the Savior of the world had been born on earth! In what joyous haste they swept down to the confines of the earth to offer tributes of praise and adoration before the crib of the newborn King of heaven! In ravishing strains, the like of which had not been heard since the creation of heaven, they sang in rapturous voices the praises of the infant Redeemer and of his unbounded mercy.
Meanwhile one of the choirs of the joyous angels hastened away to announce the glad tidings to the neighboring shepherds, who were watching and keeping the night-watches over their flock. An angel of the Lord stood by the shepherds, and the brightness of God, shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said unto them, "Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
From among the millions of men, God was pleased to select these simple-minded shepherds to be the ambassadors to Christ, bearers to the infant Savior of the first offerings of earth. What a choice privilege of these devout men, who were poor in money and goods, wanting in education and worldly knowledge, but rich in love and ardor for their Redeemer in innocence and childlike faith, were chosen by the Almighty in preference to the great and learned. Truely are the words of the Psalmist, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise." The honest shepherds believed at once the words of the angelic messengers, and raising their eyes to heaven listened with ravished ears to the strains of celestial melody. Gradually the bright light faded away, the sounds of the music grew fainter, and nothing was left above them but the silent, cloudless sky.
The shepherds said, looking at each other in amazement, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see these things that have come to pass." They then hastily gathered together a few offerings to present to the child; for from the angel's words, "You will find the child lying in a manger," they understood that this newborn Savior must be poor and destitute. They hurried forward. With awe and reverence these simple untutored men entered. With clasped hands and bowed heads and hesitating step, they advanced to the manger, knelt down respectfully, bowed their faces to the earth and poured out their heart-deep adoration. So overcome were they with feelings of love and devotion, that tears of joy gushed from their eyes and fell upon the straw of the manger.
Although their souls feasted upon the beauteous countenance of the divine babe, they were obliged to arise from their knees unsatisfied, and presenting their offerings, prepared to return to their shepherd duties. "And the shepherds returned glorifying, praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told unto them." Thus we see that there was joy in heaven among the delighted angels, and joy on earth amid the honest shepherds. The Promised One has arrived and is now with us; the Desired of Nations, the child upon whose shoulders the dominion rests, is born. Yet a little while and he will come as a conquering hero over sin and death, and to lead you in triumphal march to re-opened heaven; hence peace and joy to all who have yearned with love and hope and faith for the day of the Redeemer's coming. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death light is risen."
It is now your turn, Christian soul, to come with soft and reverend tread to the crib of Jesus, and there at the side of his joyous parents to contemplate and adore the object of their fixed regard. Ever blessed manger that held the Savior of mankind! Thou art more privileged than the castle of the king or the palace of the prince. A little child weeps, and its tears and its wailings count more than all the music of earth, and all the songs of the celestial choirs. Thrice happy birth of God in the flesh, by which the birth of man is renewed, his misery alleviated, his chains broken, and the dread account of condemned nature cancelled, so that each one who was born unto death, may now be born again unto life. For to those who receive thee, thou givest power to become the children of God. Sacred and blessed night on which the heavens touched the earth, and man received as the surest pledge of divine mercy the King of heaven as a child of earth! And this grace-laden gift of heaven to man shall be repeated henceforth on each returning year for all ages. All that is imparted on this holy night to the entire world will be renewed in favor of every individual soul; for this child of mercy, even to this day, seeks nothing else than to be spiritually born in the heart of every Christian.
In view of these events and scenes, with good reason is held the opinion, that among all the festivals of the Christian church there is none so beautiful, so rich in joy and comfort, as the festival of Christmas. Indeed it has been styled "the feast of all feasts." Hence the church, in her joy and gladness sings: "This day, has the true peace of heaven come down upon our souls; this day, the heavens shed upon the earth the fragrant sweetness of honey. To-day is the blushing dawn of salvation's morning, of eternal brightness and happiness in heaven. To-day a Savior is born of a virgin and comes to restore the lost heirs of the kingdom of heaven. To-day angels and archangels sing upon the earth and are glad. The just are happy, and cry out: 'Glory to God in the highest. Hallelujah!'"
As the Son of God was born on this day in the form of a child, it has ever been looked upon, from remote antiquity, as the special and privileged festival of good children--a day on which they enjoy their gifts from parents and friends, and gather around their gay Christmas tree or beautiful Christmas crib.
Happy the family still preserving that childlike simplicity and kindly humor, which prompts the parents to place such before their children's minds and eyes on Christmas day. Father, mother and little ones become all children together, and, in after years, when these parents shall have lain down to rest, and these little wonderers at the crib--the mimic manger, with its tiny occupant, the representation of the mystery of the incarnation--shall have been scattered abroad in the wild wastes of the world, each returning Christmas festival will gather them again, in spirit, around the "family Bethlehem," and awaken in their wearied, anxious hearts pleasant thoughts of their early Christian home.
If, near the "family Bethlehem," stands the Christmas tree arrayed in all its Christmas decorations, then the gladness of the family circle is complete. It is a figure of Jesus, who is the veritable Tree of life and happiness. The tree in paradise or Eden brought misery and death, but Christ brought us life, light and divine grace.
May this be one of the happiest and best days of all your lives, and come with it the handsomest of presents!
Reprinted 2000, updated 2001, 2005, 2017 by Mark A. Miner