George Whitfield, the great Oxford-educated preacher, whose rhetorical prowess is reported to have driven 15 people mad during his first sermon, warned against the improper celebration of Christmas, in his sermon, “The Observation of the Birth of Christ.” Given our modern American obsessions with all things electronic, with the acquisition of endless piles of stuff, and with Christmas becoming yet another excuse (as if we really needed one) for gargantuan self-indulgence, I can’t help but find Whitefield’s words challenging and relevant.
Whitefield especially warned against three things that serve to bar one from truly honoring the advent of Christ. He warned first, against wasting time on entertainments (he mentioned cards and dice, but I think it can apply equally to football), when there was so much work to be done in serving Christ. Second, he said that those who are intent upon endless eating and drinking are not rightly observing Christmas. “How can you pray,” he says, “ ‘lead us not into temptation’ when you are resolved to lead yourself into it?” Finally, he warns against spending endlessly more on yourself (he doesn’t specifically mention iPads, but…), while neglecting the needs of the poor. As a corrective to this last point, he says:
Do not, my dear brethren, be forgetful of the poor of the world; consider, if providence has smiled upon you, and blessed you with abundance of the things of this life, God calls for some returns of gratitude from you; be ye mindful of the poor, and when you are so, then you may be said to have a true regard for that time which is now approaching; if you would truly observe this festival, let it be done with moderation, and a regard to the poor of this world.
No need to go mad, though. Just do something for those less fortunate this Christmas. It really is the best way to celebrate the occasion!
George Whitefield, Selected Works of George Whitefield, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 1997), n.p.