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An Old Fashioned Christmas

by Bob Russell

From www.bobrussell.org Jan. 28, 2021

     This Wednesday night, December 1, 2021, I will be preaching at an “Old-Fashioned Family Christmas” celebration at Southeast Christian Church.  It is sponsored by the staff of The Chapel in The Woods campus of Southeast, where a more traditional worship service is held every Sunday.  The gathering this Wednesday, which is open to all, begins at 6:30 p.m and will be at the main campus located at 920 Blankenbaker Parkway.  It will feature music by a variety of people, including The Men’s Quartet, The Master’s Men, and Chris Strickland.  Plus, there will also be a Christmas drama.  It will surely be a good way to get in the proper mindset for the Christmas season.  I hope to see you there.

Someone once quipped, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be!”  Still, while we may long for an old-fashioned Christmas, is it possible we are naively exaggerating the goodness of yesteryear?  Are we glamorizing past Christmas celebrations, or was there something more spiritual and more meaningful about the holidays years ago?

      I’m old enough to remember Christmases from as far back as the 1950s, so I assure you, old-fashioned Christmases were far from perfect.  I remember a story about a magazine editor who received a nasty letter from a disgruntled reader which read, “Your magazine just isn’t what it used to be!”  The editor replied, “It never was!”  There is a sense in which the Christmas holiday never was what it should be.  Even when I was a young boy, I remember hearing people contend, “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas!”

However, the Christmases of my childhood had some elements I wish we could recapture today.

     The birth of Jesus was emphasized more then.  The day before Christmas break, in the public school I attended, we always read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible.  There were manger scenes on the public square and carols playing in department stores with almost no objections.  For years, the editorial page of the local newspaper carried a picture of a man making his Christmas list with the caption, “Have I forgotten something?”  And there was a silhouetted picture of Jesus in the background.

     The Holy Bible was more respected then.  Even people who didn’t believe or read the Bible accepted the fact that it provided a common consensus of right and wrong.  It was “the Good Book,” and the Ten Commandments were considered a source of absolute truth.  Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, was regarded as one of the most liberal judges in history.  Yet, he wrote in 1954, “I believe that no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses” (Time Magazine, 1954, February 15).

     Churches were more doctrinally sound then.  Denominations differed on the mode of baptism, frequency of communion, and predestination. Still, nearly all of them proclaimed the fundamental message of the virgin birth, the atoning death, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Today, churches are splitting over gay marriage, social justice, the inspiration of the Bible, and the exclusivity of Jesus, with many having departed from “the faith which was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3).

     The country was more unified then.  I remember Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John Kennedy giving Christmas greetings to the nation — without qualifications.  There were political differences between Republicans and Democrats but nothing like the hostility and incivility that exists today.  Bipartisan cooperation was common in Congress.  Once a president was elected, the new administration was accepted, and almost everyone spoke of “Our President.”

     Most families were more stable then.  While there was some spousal abuse, adultery, and divorce, it was not on the troubling scale of today.  Most couples stayed together, and most kids were raised by both a father and mother in the home.  Most of those parents taught their children right from wrong and insisted they be home before midnight.

     Entertainment was more wholesome then.  Father knows Best, and It’s a Wonderful Life were a lot more inspirational and less degrading than Modern Family or Bad Santa.  There was no vulgar music glorifying fornication, profanity, and killing.  Instead, it was Gene Autry crooning about “Rudolph,” Frank Sinatra wishing us “…a Merry Little Christmas,”  and Nat King Cole singing about “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”

     Satan was more restrained then.  There were fewer suicides, fewer overdoses, and no terrorists driving SUV’s into parades.  Halloween didn’t last for days, and parents didn’t worry much about candy being laced with drugs.  News networks attempted to report the truth objectively rather than promoting a political agenda.  Gangs looting department stores would have been stopped immediately by law enforcement.  However, Satan, who kills, steals, and destroys, has been given a much longer leash these days.

     Christmas was less commercialized then.  Instead, we got excited about family gatherings, Christmas lights, and one or two simple presents.  Neighbors went caroling throughout the neighborhood, and you were more likely to see a manger scene and a star in front yards than a giant inflatable Santa or Frosty the Snowman.

     The future seemed brighter then.  We didn’t worry much about the collapse of the country, a terrorist attack, or a mass shooter. Instead, we anticipated growing up in a land of opportunity and prosperity.  Yet today’s youth are negatively impacted by revisionist history that insists America is terrible and the Pilgrims were guilty of racism and genocide.  Sadly, many youths lament that there is little hope for a brighter future.

Still, praise God, our celebration of “An Old-Fashioned Family Christmas” is not really about returning to 1950. Rather, it is about returning to Bethlehem of Judea and rejoicing with the Angels’ message, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

     Christmas has significance when we remember Jesus is the Savior.  The blood Jesus shed on the cross saves us from our sins.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead saves us from death.  Jesus’ promise is still true: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).  That promise of Jesus gives us ultimate hope and makes Christmas meaningful regardless of the changes that have taken place over the years.  Because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 3:8).


             Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.


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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8