Week of December 11, 2013

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Henry van Dyke is a name that many have all but forgotten. We still sing the words to his best known hymn, Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, and associate him as well with his popular literary work, The Other Wise Man. But sadly, much about this man’s remarkable life is not remembered. Born Henry Jackson van Dyke in 1852 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, the son of a Presbyterian minister, he graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1873 and then from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1877. He learned from his father a deep love for the outdoors and a lifelong appreciation of beauty, which always found its source in God. Henry Van Dyke spent eighteen years as the Pastor of Brick Church in New York City, where he established a reputation as one of the finest and most popular preachers in America. In 1900 he was called back to his alma mater to teach English literature, a post he held until his retirement in 1923. In 1913, his Princeton classmate and friend, Woodrow Wilson, appointed him Ambassador to The Netherlands and Luxembourg, where van Dyke distinguished himself as a diplomat just as Europe became enveloped in a devastating war. Even in his retirement, van Dyke wrote widely as both an academic and as a popular writer in the best sense of that term. His books of poetry, literary criticism, short stories, sermons, the Psalms and Christian thought reflected the remarkable breadth and depth of the man. He was a man of thoughtful faith, combining both tolerance and passion in his walk with Christ. I make it a point to read his essay, Keeping Christmas, every year as the Advent season is upon us:

“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 put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellow human beings 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 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 weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in 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 Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always? But you can never keep it alone.”

I pray that we all find the grace and truth, the peace and joy, the hope and love “to keep Christmas.” Thank you, Henry van Dyke, for speaking to us across the century a word that is surely always in season!

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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