FILTER BY:

*This article was originally published in the December 1964 issue.

The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ rejoices that her Head and Redeemer was born as a babe in Bethlehem almost two thousand years ago.  On December 25?  In the year 1 A.D.?  It seems that neither the month nor the year is correct.  The few historical facts recorded in the gospels gave scholars little to go on.  In the sixth century, a learned monk designated the year 754 after the founding of Rome as the year of Christ’s birth and marked it a 1 A.D. on his new Christian calendar.  Later investigations found that this placed the death of Herod the Great in the year 4 B.C. and the young child Jesus was residing in Egypt with his parents at that time.  But the erroneous dating was too difficult to correct.

While most early Christians believed that it was on the 25th day of the month that Christ was born, the exact month was uncertain.  The early Church did not appear to have much interest in the date of Christ’s birth; the fact of His birth was the important thing and still is.  The attention of the early Church was particularly focused on Christ’s coming again to judge the quick and the dead—a natural reaction to the severe persecutions the Church was undergoing.  In fact, in 245 A.D., Origen, probably in protest of existing pagan festivities, declared it to be sinful to even think of keeping Christ’s birthday.  It was not until controversies arose regarding the divine nature of the Saviour that greater interest in the circumstances of His birth emerged.  A more dominant position was also given at this time to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  In 350 A.D., Julius I, Bishop of Rome, set December25 as the specific date for observing the birthday of Christ.  Many and varied were the celebrations already being observed at this time of the year.  Perhaps the Romish church desired to turn the attention of its newly “converted” members from such pagan festivals as the celebration of the winter solstice or the lavish Roman Saturnalia to a holiday that had sacred significance.

The Church made many attempts to maintain this as a purely spiritual festival concentrated upon the mystery of the Incarnation.  But it was not long before the pagan concomitants had become an integral part of Christmas festivities.  Fires, lighted candles, the use of greenery for decoration, the burning of the Yule log and the exchanging of gifts were some of these secular elements.

Among primitive people sun worship was common.  The Persians also showed reverence for the sun and at the time of the winter solstice would kindle great fires in homage to Mithras, the deity of light.  One of several church fathers who warned against the use of the symbols of sun worship was St. Augustine.  Later, the Romish church invested these symbols with religious significance hoping to direct their use to higher purposes.  Certainly, the church was correct in its interpretation of natural phenomena being symbolic of thing spiritual, such as the material sun being a type of the Sun of Righteousness who was also that true Light that came to lighten the Gentiles.  But when the heathen perceived, through the things that were made, the invisible things of Almighty God, “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:25).   Giving sacred significance to pagan symbols does not sanctify the symbols.

The use of greenery in the home was intended for more than decoration by pagan people.  They revered natural phenomena and evergreens in particular were regarded as an emblem of immortality by northern tribes.  By bringing greenery into their homes, these superstitious people hoped the magic power evidenced in the fact that the greens did not die during the freezing winters would prevent death from striking them also.

The most common of many legends concerning the origin of the fir tree as a symbol of Christmas centers on St. Boniface.  This English missionary is reputed to have rescued a young prince from the hands of the Druids who were accustomed to offering human sacrifices to their god at the sacred oak.  Boniface cut down the oak and in its place a small fir sprang up.  After telling the people the story of Christ’s coming to earth, Boniface asked them to take the fir tree into their homes and to celebrate the birthday of the Christ.  It is claimed that the German people were also the first to use lighted and decorated trees.  A story, not authenticated, is told of Martin Luther’s decorating a fir tree one Christmas Eve with candles to illustrate the beauty of the starry sky.  But years before, the Romans, in their riotous celebration of the Saturnalia—a festival which honored the ancient Roman god of agriculture—trimmed trees with trinkets and toys and sometimes candles.  The Saturnalia was also an occasion for elaborate decoration of homes, temples and statues of gods and goddesses with green boughs, garlands and flowers.  The practice of giving and exchanging presents was almost as common then as it is now at Christmas time.

Manger or crèche scenes have become both popular and competitive today.  It originated with St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 A.D., who is also supposed to have been the first to popularize carols.  Singing of Christmas carols was one of many things discouraged by the Calvinists who preferred instead the metrical psalms.  Puritans in England and America did not allow Christmas caroling at all.  In fact, any special celebration of Christ’s birth or of His death was forbidden by them.  According to a Roman Catholic author, Francis X. Weiser, when Christmas celebration was restored with the return of the monarchy in England, it was a new kind of “Christmas without Christ.  The old traditions of religious observances disappeared, leaving only a worldly shallow feast of amusement and reveling”.  And he could easily have added: “at which Santa Claus is the feted guest”.

To the Church of God this imaginary character represents one of the most repugnant aspects of a worldly observance of a “holy” day.  There was a real St. Nicholas, an early Christian bishop who lived in an ancient town in Asia Minor and who was noted for his generosity to the poor and to the children.  Stories of him were carried by Dutch seamen to Holland and as a result, December 6 was designated as gift day for the children in his honor.  No doubt, the early Dutch settlers of New York took with them this tradition.  But the Santa Claus of today bears no resemblance to this ancient bishop.  The poem of Dr. C. C. Moore probably had much to do with this transformation.  Certainly, the Church does not fear the supplanting of Christ as the central Figure of Christmas by Santa Claus.  And the world never did and never can celebrate Christ’s Day anyway.

The Church of Christ rejoices in the birth of the Savior every day of the year, but it is good to have one special day set aside in which the Church comes together to commemorate this wonderful fact.  How easy it is to be swept along with the rushing world into a shallow observance—to allow oneself to become beguiled by a superficial joy which is intensified by all the outward trivia that seems to be part of the whole “Christmas season”.  And then suddenly everything palls and we are glad that Christmas will soon be over.  For a deep and lasting joy, for a proper celebration of Christmas, it is necessary to separate oneself from all that is not truly God-glorifying in this season.  Take time to read and meditate, alone and within the family, on “The Mystery of Bethlehem”.

The church of our Lord Jesus Christ rejoices that her head and redeemer was born as a babe in Bethlehem almost two thousand years ago. On December 25? In the year I A.D.? It seems that neither the month nor the year are correct. The few historical facts recorded in the gospels gave scholars little to go on. In the sixth century a learned monk designated the year 754 after the founding of Rome as the year of Christ’s birth and marked it as 1 A.D. on his new Christian calendar. Later investigations found that this placed the death of Herod the Great in the year 4 B.C., and the young child Jesus was residing in Egypt with his parents at that time. But the erroneous dating was too difficult to correct.

While most early Christians believed that it was on the 23rd day of the month that Christ was born, the exact month was uncertain. The early church did not appear to have much interest in the date of Christ’s birth; the fact of his birth was the important thing, and still is. The attention of the early church was particularly focused on Christ’s coming again to judge the quick and the dead—a natural reaction to the severe persecutions the church was undergoing. In fact, in 245 A.D. Origen, probably in protest of existing pagan festivities, declared it to be sinful to even think of keeping Christ’s birthday. It was not until controversies arose regarding the divine nature of the Savior that greater interest in the circumstances of his birth emerged. A more dominant position was also given at this time to Mary the mother of Jesus. In 350 A.D. Julius I, Bishop of Rome, set December 25 as the specific date for observing the birthday of Christ. Many and varied were the celebrations already observed at this time of the year. Perhaps the Romish church desired to turn the attention of its newly “converted” members from such pagan festivals as the celebration of the winter solstice or the lavish Roman Saturnalia to a holiday that had sacred significance.

The church made many attempts to maintain this as a purely spiritual festival concentrated upon the mystery of the Incarnation. But it was not long before the pagan concomitants had become an integral part of Christmas festivities. fires, lighted candles, the use of greenery for decoration, the burning of the Yule log, and the exchanging of gifts were some of these secular elements.

Among primitive people sun worship was common. The Persians also showed reverence for the sun and at the time of the winter solstice would kindle great fires in homage to Mithras, the deity of light. One of several church fathers who warned against the use of the symbols of sun worship was St. Augustine. Later the Romish church invested these symbols with religious significance hoping to direct their use to higher purposes. Certainly the church was correct in its interpretation of natural phenomena being symbolic of things spiritual, such as the material sun being a type of the Sun of righteousness who was also that true light that came to lighten the Gentiles. But when the heathen perceived, through the things that were made, the invisible things of almighty God, “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:25). Giving sacred significance to pagan symbols does not sanctify the symbols.

The use of greenery in the home was intended for more than decoration by pagan people. They revered natural phenomena, and the evergreens in particular were regarded as an emblem of immortality by northern tribes. By bringing greenery into their homes, these superstitious people hoped the magic power evidenced in the fact that the greens did not die during the freezing winters would prevent death from striking them also.

The most common of many legends concerning the origin of the fir tree as a symbol of Christmas centers on St. Boniface. This English missionary is reputed to have rescued a young prince from the hands of the Druids who were accustomed to offering human sacrifices at the sacred oak to their god. Boniface cut down the oak and in its place a small fir sprang up. After telling the people the story of Christ’s coming to earth, Boniface asked them to take the fir tree into their homes and to celebrate the birthday of the Christ. It is claimed that the German people were also the first to use lighted and decorated trees. A story, not authenticated, is told of Martin Luther’s decorating a fir tree one Christmas Eve with candles to illustrate the beauty of the starry sky. But years before, the Romans in their riotous celebration of die Saturnalia—a festival which honored the ancient Roman god of agriculture—trimmed trees with trinkets and toys and sometimes candles. The Saturnalia was also an occasion for elaborate decoration of homes, temples, and statues of gods and goddesses with green boughs, garlands, and flowers. The practice of giving and exchanging presents was almost as common then as it is now at Christmas time.

Manger or crèche scenes have become both popular and competitive today. It originated with St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 A.D., who is also supposed to have been the first to popularize carols. Singing of Christmas carols was one of many things discouraged by the Calvinists who preferred instead the metrical psalms. Puritans in England and America did not allow Christmas caroling at all. In fact any special celebration of Christ’s birth or of his death was forbidden by them. According to a Roman Catholic author, Francis X. Weiser, when Christmas celebration was restored with the return of the monarchy in England, it was a new kind of “Christmas without Christ. The old traditions of religious observances disappeared, leaving only a worldly shallow feast of amusement and reveling.” And he could easily have added: “at which Santa Claus is the feted guest.”

To the church of God this imaginary character represents one of the most repugnant aspects of a worldly observance of a “holy” day. There was a real St. Nicholas, an early Christian bishop who lived in an ancient town in Asia Minor, and who was noted for his generosity to the poor and to the children. Stories of him were carried by Dutch seamen to Holland, and as a result December 6 was designated as gift day for the children in his honor. No doubt the early Dutch settlers of New York took with them this tradition. But the Santa Claus of today bears no resemblance to this ancient bishop. The poem of Dr. C. C. Moore probably had much to do with this transformation. Certainly the church does not fear the supplanting of Christ as the central figure of Christmas by Santa Claus. And the world never did and never can celebrate Christ’s day anyway.

The church of Christ rejoices in the birth of the Savior every day of the year, but it is good to have one special day set aside in which the church comes together to commemorate this wonderful fact. How easy it is to be swept along with the rushing world into a shallow observance—to allow oneself to become beguiled by a superficial joy which is intensified by all the outward trivia that seems to be part of the whole “Christmas season.” And then suddenly everything palls, and we are glad that Christmas will soon be over. For a deep and lasting joy, for a proper celebration of Christmas, it is necessary to separate oneself from all that is not truly God-glorifying in this season. Take time to read and meditate, alone and within.

How wonderful in meaning are Paul’s words to Timothy as recorded in II Timothy 3:15: ”And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Equally meaningful are the same words as applied to our covenant children today.

For many years that same holy Scriptures which they are privileged to read and study was hidden in darkness, and its glorious truths buried under superstitions and traditions of men. The church, with rare exception, had no access to the Word of God—and little interest in it either. It was not until the sixteenth century that God raised up a man, Martin Luther by name, to lead the church out of the bondage of Roman Catholicism into the liberty wherewith Christ had made it free. Such an event, so significant in the history of Christ’s Church on earth, should be observed and thought about by us who are the heirs of the fruits of that Great Reformation.

What does October 31 mean to you? Does the name “Halloween” bring a quicker response than that of “Reforma­tion Day”? What flashes through your mind—visions of witches…pumpkin faces…masks…tricks or treat? For most people this is truly the case. Halloween is celebrated by the world in just that way.

The name “Halloween” means hallowed or holy evening, and October 31 was called this because it came before All Saints’ Day. November 1 was set apart by the Roman Catholic Church early in the seventh century to honor all their saints, especially those who did not have a day named for them. But Halloween as the world knows it had its origin even further back in history. Among the early heathen tribes that inhabited Britain before the birth of Christ were the Celts. The men who exercised much influence in the tribes’ religious and civil affairs were priests called Druids. The Druids believed and taught that on a certain evening during the autumn festivals ghosts, spirits, witches, and elves roamed about with intent to harm the people. This superstitious belief has lost its ability to frighten this generation, but the pagan and heathenish customs have been carried over to the present day celebration of Halloween. For that is the day when goblins, witches, and other weird specters make their hilarious appearance. What a foolish and meaningless day! In the schools of our nation, plans are made in advance to celebrate it to the full. Rooms are decorated with pumpkin faces, witches, and black cats. Parties are being arranged; costumes are being readied; masks are being purchased or made. Fathers are braggingly telling their children the glowing details of the pranks and tricks they used to pull off. Police look with dread to the coming of that evening when it seems as if all the evil spirits are actually out wandering on the streets. Communities, alerted to the in­cipient danger, rally to entice the youth to harmless parties. Adults stock up on candy, gum, and such to be ready to pay tribute to masked figures who shriek in threatening voices: “Trick or treat!”

Why are the people of God willing to let anything so essentially heathenish obscure an event as important and signi­ficant as Reformation Day? Are we not delivered from Roman Catholicism and heathenish superstition? Do we not have a calling also here to testify that we are the children of the “day,” not the night!

The observance of Reformation Day and its glorious implications begins in the home. The family should discuss the liberation of the church and the unshackling of the Word of God. Stories of the personal struggle of Martin Luther and events leading up to his nailing the 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, appeal strongly to the imagination of all of us. For a long time he had searched for favor with God, but this peace was denied him even in the seclusion of the monastery and despite self-imposed chastisements. With the discovery of the almost extinct Bible and his avid study of it, Luther was being prepared for his role as the great reformer. The sale of indulgences and Tetzel’s shameless part in this traffic proved to be the spark that set off the Reformation.

Such interest engendered in the home can be built upon and enlarged in the school. Our Christian schools of today are making an earnest attempt to supplant Halloween with Reformation Day by educating the children in the proper cele­bration of October 31.

Various Young People’s Groups in our denomination reveal that the Reformation has meaning for them also. As they gather together on that day in their mass meetings, they reiterate in songs and speeches the fruits of the Reformation: freedom from the vain and corrupt traditions of the Romish Church and a restora­tion of the Holy Scriptures to the church of Christ.

Yet there is need of constant reformation within the Church. She must continue to reform as long as she is on the earth. The knowledge of the truth grows…Calvin follows Luther, the Confessions follow the 95 theses, and so on. More time should be spent by every one of us in a sincere study of the precious Word of God, instead of catering to the flesh which would make things easier and not too deep or doctrinal. As sons and daughters of the Reformation, let us he zealous, watching over the truth, holding fast to what we have. The world may have its Halloween…the church has its Reformation Day!

 

World Book Encyclopedia described it thus: “Jamaica is the largest island in the British West Indies. It is a tropical paradise of high mountains, soft breezes, and color­ful plants and flowers. Jamaica lies in the Caribbean Sea, ninety miles south of Cuba …. The island is about 148 miles long and 52 miles wide at its widest point. It is shaped like a turtle, with east-west mountain ridges forming the turtle’s back. Nearly 95 percent of the Jamaicans are either of Negro or mixed Negro and white descent. Most of the people earn their liv­ing by farm labor. Living standards are low in Jamaica. Many of the people cannot read or write …. Most of the Jamaicans are Christians”

Prepared by this and similar descriptions, aided by views of many slides of the island, we set off with what we thought was a clear picture of the place we planned to visit for a week. Very soon we found that these limited segments of the total com­plex did not give to us the true picture that can be obtained only by actual involve­ment. One has to experience first-hand the hustle and bustle of the city life, the smells, the sights of extreme contrasts between wealth and poverty, the narrowness and roughness of the roads, the denseness and colorfulness of the tropical foliage, the panoramic views, the perils of travel, and the delightful winter weather.

But let’s start at the beginning. The ease and swiftness of jet travel is almost unbelievable. Within a matter of a few hours, traveling almost 600 miles an hour, about seven miles in the atmosphere, we left zero weather in Michigan and were met with temperatures in the high eighties in Montego Bay. After a few hectic moments in a confusing noisy, traveler- crowded airport, we were checked out of customs and warmly welcomed by Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers. Soon we were on our way “home” and were trying to adjust ourselves to the fact that the driver’s seat was on the right side of this sturdy, compact Ford Cortina and that we were riding on the left side of the road.

The preceding paragraphs were written after the brief trip we took in December of 1969. Our second and slightly longer visit in Jamaica was in April of this year, and this time our anticipations and expectations were more realistic. Our reactions and im­pressions were very similar, however. We saw a different part of the island and be­came acquainted with people of whom we heard much but most of whom we pre­viously had not met.

Our activities were quite varied. Having relaxed on Saturday, we were plunged immediately on Sunday into the work of the missionary of the Gospel on the island. A long drive over the winding mountain roads brought us to the community called Cave, on the south side of the island of Jamaica. After a fifteen to thirty minute climb on a rocky foot-path, we reached the small frame structure where thirty-five men. women, and children had gathered to hear the Word preached. It was Easter Sunday, and the audience was responsive and at­tentive to the Easter sermon. The evening service was held at a place called Water­works and began at 6 o’clock to enable us to reach home at Coral Gardens before 10 o’clock. The congregation here numbered about fifty. Some of them travelled a long distance on foot or on bicycle in order to attend the services. Our first Sunday night found us very tired physically but greatly refreshed spiritually.

On Tuesday a very important meeting of the Jamaican Trustees of the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica was held at the missionary’s home. The three ministers. Revs. Elliott, Frame, and Ruddock, as well as the elders, Spence and A. A. Wright, were present, and enacted many significant decisions. One decision concerned the church political structure of the Protestant Reformed Churches in Jamaica. At the present the churches are more episcopal than presbyterian in structure, but the min­isters and elders are becoming more aware of the need for change and are working in this direction. Another encouraging aspect of the meeting was the unanimous decision by the trustees that there should be an in­formed and educated ministry. The trustees decided that any person desiring the min­istry must be trained in the theological school. This would strengthen the cause of the school in Lacovia where four students currently are instructed.

One of the highlights of our visit was the opportunity to visit and speak in this school in Lacovia. The church-school building is constructed of cement blocks. It is adequately furnished with benches, a table, and chairs that were made by one of the students, Trevor Nish, with the help of his brother. Besides Trevor, students Ken Brown, Len Williams, and Alvin Beckford attend classes at the school; Elmena Green, a girl of about 18 years, also attends the classes.

The devotion and dedication of the stu­dents impressed us. Each student in turn led devotions and related the Psalm he read with its versification in the Psalter. The Heidelberg Catechism, Old Testament History. Church History, and English were the subjects treated that day. We observed students who had progressed academically during the existence of the school. Their attitude and speech showed that they pos­sessed by the Spirit of Christ. We were edified by their prayers and were gratified by the genuine concern they displayed for the welfare of their teacher, who was always mentioned in their prayers. Several visitors attended school besides ourselves that Wed­nesday. It was another long, busy, and en­joyable day. We felt deeply the strong bonds of Christian love and fellowship. It is our conviction that the most effective and necessary aspect of the work in Jamaica is this theological school in Lacovia. Here native, Jamaican young men, who have all the problems of other Jamaican young men, but are children of God and heirs of the promises, are trained to be witnesses to those who are willing to listen to the preaching of the Word. The future of the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica lies exactly in the work done in this school, so that a trained ministry can take the place of those men who are work­ing the churches which have no ministers and in those churches being considered as “mission stations.” The fountain head of the Truth in every church is its theological school. This is true in Jamaica too.

After leaving the school on Wednesday afternoon, we stopped at the Fairview Bap­tist Bible College. This combined high school and college at Ramble is administered by an energetic Baptist missionary, Jim Wilson, a self-pronounced Calvinist. We visited and discussed many theological and practical problems with him and his wife. On Friday we visited the school while classes were in session and met some of the devoted, qualified, and hard-working mem­bers of the faculty. The students in the Bible College appear to be working at or about the same level as the students in our school in Lacovia are working, which is early high school level in our Christian school system. Throughout the entire Jamaican educational system, rote memori­zation is the pedagogical method. One of the faculty in the Bible College noted that most of the Jamaican students discuss and generalize with difficulty. The students in our theological school in Jamaica are being trained to do this, but any student can testify that it is difficult to proceed from the specific and factual to a correct gen­eralization.

Another Sunday soon came, and this time we traveled to the church of Hope Hill, Westmoreland. A rocky, steep, but beauti­ful drive brought us into the mountains after a two-hour ride from Montego Bay. When we could go no further by car, we were escorted by a group of fellow wor­shippers, which became larger as we made the forty-five minute walk, single-file up and down the steep, rocky path. We were warmly greeted by an audience of ap­proximately one hundred. After services led by Rev. Lubbers, who was assisted by his able student, Len Williams, we were served a delicious steak dinner. A Bible discussion class was conducted in the after­noon. Many of the people who attended had remained at the church dinnerless. As we returned down the mountain road to­ward the seacoast, crowded eight in the small car, a torrential rain fell. Our four extra passengers did not accompany us very far, and the rain did not last long.

On Monday we traveled home convinced that God is using our churches in a marvelous way, but convinced also that we can and must do more.

Our impressions of Jamaica—the churches and work there in particular — were not much different after our second visit than they were after our first visit. Wherever we went, the neatness and cleanliness of the people stood out in sharp contrast to the primitiveness of the living conditions. We found also that the tie that binds the church universal is not hindered by any ethnic barrier. We still believe that many of our Caucasian mores and customs should not be imposed upon the Jamaican Chris­tian; he should be permitted to express himself in his own way. Our task should be to give him the correct content for that expression. There are spiritual prob­lems in Jamaica as well as in our own country, but the history of the church militant is a history of fighting problems and evils which the church triumphant will no longer have to battle.

Jamaica is a field that God has opened to us. We have worked it for almost a decade and have seen fruits. It must con­tinue to be cultivated. We have no other foreign mission. We must evangelize all nations. There is no language harrier here, and the government has not yet shut the door to mission work as has already been done on other islands in the Caribbean. There is still an urgent need for continual instruction in the Truth. There are many labors, the time is short, the laborers are too few.

The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ rejoices that her Head and Redeemer was born as a babe in Bethlehem almost two thousand years ago. On December 25? In the year 1 A.D.? It seems that neither the month nor the year is correct. The few historical facts recorded in the gospels gave scholars little to go on. In the sixth century a learned monk designated the year 754 after the founding of Rome as the year of Christ’s birth and marked it a 1 A.D. on his new Christian calendar. Later investigations found that this placed the death of Herod the Great in the year 4 B.C. and the young child Jesus was residing in Egypt with his parents at that time. But the erroneous dating was too difficult to correct.

While most early Christians believed that it was on the 25th day of the month that Christ was born, the exact month was uncertain. The early Church did not appear to have much interest in the date of Christ’s birth; the fact of His birth was the important thing and still is. The attention of the early Church was particularly focused on Christ’s coming again to judge the quick and the dead—a natural reaction to the severe persecutions the Church was undergoing. In fact, in 245 A.D., Origen, probably in protest of existing pagan festivities, declared it to be sinful to even think of keeping Christ’s birthday. It was not until controversies arose regarding the divine nature of the Saviour that greater interest in the circumstances of His birth emerged. A more dominant position was also given at this time to Mary, the mother of Jesus. In 350 A.D., Julius I, Bishop of Rome, set December25 as the specific date for observing the birthday of Christ. Many and varied were the celebrations already being observed at this time of the year. Perhaps the Romish church desired to turn the attention of its newly “converted” members from such pagan festivals as the celebration of the winter solstice or the lavish Roman Saturnalia to a holiday that had sacred significance.

The Church made many attempts to maintain this as a purely spiritual festival concentrated upon the mystery of the Incarnation. But it was not long before the pagan concomitants had become an integral part of Christmas festivities. Fires, lighted candles, the use of greenery for decoration, the burning of the Yule log and the exchanging of gifts were some of these secular elements.

Among primitive people sun worship was common. The Persians also showed reverence for the sun and at the time of the winter solstice would kindle great fires in homage to Mithras, the deity of light. One of several church fathers who warned against the use of the symbols of sun worship was St. Augustine. Later, the Romish church invested these symbols with religious significance hoping to direct their use to higher purposes. Certainly the church was correct in its interpretation of natural phenomena being symbolic of thing spiritual, such as the material sun being a type of the Sun of Righteousness who was also that true Light that came to lighten the Gentiles. But when the heathen perceived, through the things that were made, the invisible things of Almighty God, “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:25). Giving sacred significance to pagan symbols does not sanctify the symbols.

The use of greenery in the home was intended for more than decoration by pagan people. They revered natural phenomena and evergreens in particular were regarded as an emblem of immortality by northern tribes. By bringing greenery into their homes, these superstitious people hoped the magic power evidenced in the fact that the greens did not die during the freezing winters would prevent death from striking them also.

The most common of many legends concerning the origin of the fir tree as a symbol of Christmas centers on St. Boniface. This English missionary is reputed to have rescued a young prince from the hands of the Druids who were accustomed to offering human sacrifices to their god at the sacred oak. Boniface cut down the oak and in its place a small fir sprang up. After telling the people the story of Christ’s coming to earth, Boniface asked them to take the fir tree into their homes and to celebrate the birthday of the Christ. It is claimed that the German people were also the first to use lighted and decorated trees. A story, not authenticated, is told of Martin Luther’s decorating a fir tree one Christmas Eve with candles to illustrate the beauty of the starry sky. But years before, the Romans, in their riotous celebration of the Saturnalia—a festival which honored the ancient Roman god of agriculture—trimmed trees with trinkets and toys and sometimes candles. The Saturnalia was also an occasion for elaborate decoration of homes, temples and statues of gods and goddesses with green boughs, garlands and flowers. The practice of giving and exchanging presents was almost as common then as it is now at Christmas time.

Manger or crèche scenes have become both popular and competitive today. It originated with St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 A.D., who is also supposed to have been the first to popularize carols. Singing of Christmas carols was one of many things discouraged by the Calvinists who preferred instead the metrical psalms. Puritans in England and America did not allow Christmas caroling at all. In fact any special celebration of Christ’s birth or of His death was forbidden by them. According to a Roman Catholic author, Francis X. Weiser, when Christmas celebration was restored with the return of the monarchy in England, it was a new kind of “Christmas without Christ. The old traditions of religious observances disappeared, leaving only a worldly shallow feast of amusement and reveling”. And he could easily have added: “at which Santa Claus is the feted guest”.

To the Church of God this imaginary character represents one of the most repugnant aspects of a worldly observance of a “holy” day. There was a real St. Nicholas, an early Christian bishop who lived in an ancient town in Asia Minor and who was noted for his generosity to the poor and to the children. Stories of him were carried by Dutch seamen to Holland and as a result, December 6 was designated as gift day for the children in his honor. No doubt, the early Dutch settlers of New York took with them this tradition. But the Santa Claus of today bears no resemblance to this ancient bishop. The poem of Dr. C. C. Moore probably had much to do with this transformation. Certainly the Church does not fear the supplanting of Christ as the central Figure of Christmas by Santa Claus. And the world never did and never can celebrate Christ’s Day anyway.

The Church of Christ rejoices in the birth of the Saviour every day of the year, but it is good to have one special day set aside in which the Church comes together to commemorate this wonderful fact. How easy it is to be swept along with the rushing world into a shallow observance—to allow oneself to become beguiled by a superficial joy which is intensified by all the outward trivia that seems to be part of the whole “Christmas season”. And then suddenly everything palls and we are glad that Christmas will soon be over. For a deep and lasting joy, for a proper celebration of Christmas, it is necessary to separate oneself from all that is not truly God-glorifying in this season. Take time to read and meditate, alone and within the family, on “The Mystery of Bethlehem”.

While my playmates were busy with dolls, I was reading everything I could lay my hands on. Housework bored me – and still does. One of my favorite games was playing school. And yet I never gave one thought to making the teaching profession my life work. That was due mostly to the times in which I grew up – desperately poor times. I could hardly wait until I graduated from high school to start earning money to help my parents.

After I had done clerical work for over eight years, I became extremely dissatisfied with this type of work. Some of my friends were teaching or going to college after having worked at other jobs; I had saved a little money hoping to buy a car in the near future; it was time for a change! At that time, there was a nation-wide appeal for more nurses – in fact, one could even earn a small monthly wage while in training. I decided to be a nurse, but I soon found that my high school background was lacking in the required science subjects. That meant more schooling. I discussed this matter with Alice Reitsma who assured me that she had not found it a difficult thing to go back to a life of classrooms, textbooks and study and encouraged me to do the same. But she also urged me to go in for teaching instead of nursing as there was a strong movement for our own schools, and there would be a great need for Protestant Reformed teachers. Our ministers were also presenting this same need in their sermons, and it was during one of Rev. H. Hoeksema’s sermons that God gave me the deep desire to work in His kingdom in this capacity. I was able to finish my college work in three years and as many summers – and when Adams St. School opened in September of 1950, I became “teacher” to forty-five fifth and sixth graders.

I’m sure that every teacher’s first year cannot be as discouraging as mine was. One thing I do remember: I prayed without ceasing for guidance and help and God gave me what I needed day by day. The next four years were happy years, but when I faced my class in the fall of 1954, I saw that only five of my previous twenty-three pupils had returned. My heart grieved for those others whose parents are to be held accountable for the setting of their children’s feet upon the pathway of their future life. Later, I was to go through a similar heartrending experience, and I still pray for my dearly loved former pupils. My work load for the next few years was heavy but enjoyable. For some of these years I taught grades 5 and 6; for other years, it was grades 4 and 5; for two years, it was grades 3 and 4 mornings and grade 4 afternoons. Yet each year of teaching makes me realize anew how privileged I am that God has chosen me to be a teacher.

There are many advantages in being a teacher. The profession gives one a measure of financial security. Of course, there are many higher paid professions, but I have always found my salary sufficient for my needs. And my responsibilities have been more than that of many single persons. Besides, I have constant fellowship with persons who feel as I do about the things that matter most in this life. A teacher in a Christian school really lives a wonderfully sheltered life. Furthermore, there is no end to learning in the teaching profession. No talents or abilities need to lie dormant. A teacher must be continually improving himself or herself, keeping informed on the latest methods, but also being stimulated with new thoughts and ideas. There are no idle moments for a conscientious teacher, and the teaching day is never monotonous or dull.

But above all else, teaching is a most rewarding work spiritually! A teacher who is called to hold always before the consciousness of her pupils Almighty God who rules over all the works of His hand and who shows to us His children His unspeakable love and goodness in the gift of His Son must have that love of God deeply rooted in his own heart and mind and soul. It is a teacher’s blessed calling to show the children how to be citizens of the Kingdom of God while living useful temporal lives. Presenting each school subject in the light of God’s Word, the teacher strives to implant in the heart of the pupil a realization of his relationship to God in every part of life. Both pupil and teacher must know that during all the days of their pilgrimage here God calls them to be faithful stewards in His service. Psalm 90 verse 17 summarizes well the prayer of every God-fearing teacher: “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”

The flame is low
Upon the wick,
So pale its glow.
Dark shadows flick
And slowly lick
Up light, the foe.

Sharp tongues of men
Expose the quick,
Lay bare each sin.
No oil to slick,
And faults are thick
When love is thin.

The term “social studies” when used to designate certain school subjects is of comparatively recent origin. Although first used in 1916 it is in recent years that it has become the accepted term by which the school subjects which deal with human relationships are known. Included in it are history, geography, civics, economics, sociology, political science, and others. For our purposes it can be limited to history and geography, and perhaps citizenship in the lower grades.

A social studies program can be organized in several different ways: separate subjects, fused subjects, problems or projects units or topics, or activities and experiences. While there is much discussion regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the fused program as against the separate subject set-up in the higher grades, in the primary grades there is uniformity regarding the teaching procedure.

Social studies are very important: The purpose being a systematic widening of the child’s knowledge and understanding of the world as it was created and is sustained by God and always serves His purpose. Therefore, even in the primary grades it should not be neglected. At this level there is no attempt made to divide the material into separate subjects. The contents of the social studies program are generally organized into units which include activities. The lower the grade, the briefer and more numerous should be the units. Some of these units are suggested by a subject that is taught in all the primary grades – nature study or science. Some of the most important geographical concepts are almost certain to be introduced in these units. Acquisition of a concept is a slow growing thing. It is wise to repeat it throughout the grades. Many children in higher grades can reach back into past experiences of primary and intermediate grades and find there valuable generalizations which can then be developed and expanded. Some units which embrace geographical concepts are those which deal with Weather, Seasons, Day and Night (bringing in the globe for study and touching upon rotation, gravity etc.); also a unit on Animals; or Food, Clothing, and Homes; or Occupations as being influenced by natural environment. There is at present an increasing supply of rich supplementary reading material for primary grades treating many of these things. The more advanced readers will benefit greatly from its use, but all pupils will find it profitable for vocabulary enrichment as well as development of reading and other study skills.

One weakness I feel in the social studies program in the primary grades is the neglect of the historic element. Children coming face to face with history as a subject in the fifth grade have very little background. I realize that it is impossible to use the chronological sequence and expect these young children to understand it, but simple time relationships can be taught. A unit on Transportation or one on Indians uses the historic approach nicely and naturally, Historic events and figures could easily be presented to children in the early grades in a simple way. Must a child be in the fourth grade before he ever hears of Columbus? Why not use special days, such as Columbus Day, to lay a little groundwork? Important days and persons connected with the history of the Church should not be overlooked either. Reformation Day should be an important event even to the very young child! Isn’t it also possible and proper to treat, not necessarily in detail, the historic background of the Church in Europe as we talk about the Pilgrims and the celebration of Thanksgiving? February is a good time to introduce and work out a unit on our country’s early history in connection with the birthday celebrations of two of its prominent leaders. If history is, as we believe, the unfolding of God’s plan throughout the ages it is far too important a subject to be thrust in the background! “His-story” has great significance for every one of His children.

One worthwhile way of giving children a little historic background is to read interesting stories to them about some of the historical personages. Such an introduction in the primary grades aids in the jump to the more factual presentation in the intermediate grades. Certain of the publishing companies put out a reading series which devote one or more sections to just such stories. There is also a wealth of biographies available on almost every reading level, and we encourage the children to read them.

Systematic geography begins in the fourth grade. Our present textbook treats a series of progressively more complex human-habitat studies, and it would be very difficult and most confusing to use the fused approach. Historic elements can be brought into the picture as needed to facilitate understanding, but the emphasis is not on history as such. There is an argument as to whether it is pedagogically sound to jump into the strange and unknown world; it might be better to begin with the known and familiar and then gradually expand the horizons. We start out with a unit in the fourth grade on Michigan, and I usually find that the state capital is as far away as the Amazon in terms of the experience of most children. A background on the community and the town is given in the third grade social studies program, but state, country, and continent are new concepts. Geography in the fifth grade deals with the Americans, and the history of the United States does tie in well with the regional approach of our country. But I prefer the broader, more detailed treatment afforded with history as a separate subject, going ahead at its own speed. Concentration on one subject makes for better learning, and if the same topic comes up in a different setting, it has the advantage of being repeated and being looked at from another angle.

Current events is another phase of the social studies program that contributes to the child’s understanding of the world. Especially today with television more attention is being paid to it in the home. Helping the child to comprehend the significance of events should be the work of the teacher in the intermediate and upper grades. There are many interesting current events “weekly readers” published that are on the child’s reading level. The sixth grade is using one this year that has captured the interest of the whole family.

Whether it is through a fused program a unit approach, or through separate subjects, social studies is a means of aiding the child to consolidate and integrate his fragmentary image of the world – to find in it a God-ordained orderliness, coherence, and purpose – and to be able to take his place in it as an intelligent child of God.

Originally Published in:

Vol. 19 No. 7 October-November 1959

Geography should he one of the most enjoyable subjects studied in school. For the pupil who, in the light of the Scriptures, can view God’s creation and see His greatness and His glory in it, geography provides endless opportunities to praise his Maker. His heart overflows with joy and he says with the psalmist: “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works; in wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.” To lead the pupil to experience that is the calling of the geography teacher. Although it is true that only the Holy Spirit can cause this response in the heart of God’s child, the teacher presents the material and uses pedagogical methods to gain the interest of the pupil and hold his attention.

Many geographical concepts and principles must be mastered and understandings must be developed, and this demands hard work. Because children too are inclined to take the path of least resistance, it is incumbent on every teacher of geography to actuate them. The ease of learning as well as the efficiency increases in proportion to the extent to which the learner is engrossed in his task. Therefore interest is a condition precedent to good instruction and learning.

Enthusiasm and the ability to transfer this enthusiasm to others is required of a teacher in order to arouse interest. The attention of the children can he held if their imaginations are stimulated by the teacher’s efforts to make scenes and peoples live. Through the use of vivid descriptions they are encouraged to experience various situations. Another way of making distant scenes real is through the use of films. Pictures, moving or still, are especially valuable in aiding children to form clear-cut ideas and correct mental images. They can also provide strong motivation when introducing a new unit.

Of all the geographic tools the textbook is the most important. Therefore it must have appeal for the children. Abundant and rich illustrative material is a necessary requirement, for all children enjoy studying the pictures. Clear and vivid illustrations give them an incentive to read the text. Children should also have the experience of using supplementary books, which will do much to enrich their study of geography.

The sense of hearing in any child is dulled quickly. If an appeal is made to the sense of sight at the same time, the attention span is lengthened perceptibly; and if the child can also express himself, the learning process is most effective. Every possible means of expression should be utilized. Lively class discussions guided by the teacher – who makes good use of the “blackboard” to stress important facts – is a common and worthwhile method. Visual aids are helpful as a supplement to teaching. An object pertinent to the geography lesson will often serve to focus wandering attentions, and a stimulating discussion can center around it. Exhibits and displays of articles brought by the children create a great deal of interest.

Correlating geography to other subjects is a good teaching device, and can be easily done because of the close relationship that exists between geography and other subjects. In Bible study, history, and current events geographic factors can be emphasized. Making reports, writing and reading stories and poems, as well as such art work as making murals, peep-shows, scrapbooks, and maps provide the variety that is needed and develop interest.

A globe will furnish a good incentive to map work – although most children are eager enough to learn about maps. Maps are essential tools to develop geographical understanding, but skill in reading and interpreting maps is not easily mastered. It can he facilitated to some extent through map games.

These are merely some suggestions and examples, and a teacher of geography must be alert to the need for variety to keep interest high. The purpose of all activities must not be lost sight of. It is not to entertain the pupils, nor to indulge them by allowing them to put forth only a minimal effort, but its purpose is to make the subject matter and concepts studied more meaningful, and thus assure its retention for a much longer period. While the text book is fundamental, it should not be the only teaching and learning tool. Some children learn through one approach while ethers find another approach more helpful. While it would be impossible to give all children an opportunity to take part in all activities, the teacher should provide some experience to which each child can make a definite reaction.

A pleasant introduction to geography can cause an attitude of enjoyment to be sustained through all the grades and can be productive of life-long results. Geography can carry over into adult life as an absorbing and rewarding interest. Regardless, for a Christian who is to be “thoroughly equipped” geography is a necessary part of his knowledge. For – is this not our Father’s world?

Do you like to receive mail? Does a stack of unopened letters intrigue you? If so, the work of corresponding secretary should appeal to you as much as it does to me. I am still hoping, though, to experience the feeling the former secretary had when she opened the Reformed Witness Hour’s box in the post office one day to find it so tightly crammed with letters that she could hardly pull them out. Altogether 136 requests came in for the broadcast on the divorce question. So, whenever the mail response is light and this is the case many times . . . . we can be encouraged by remembering that for every person who writes us, many, many more listen, and many of our listeners are already on our permanent mailing list. But we do appreciate hearing from our listeners, so write us now and then.

The letters and cards come from states as far west as Washington, where KPUG broadcasts the Reformed Witness Hour, and from California in response to the printed messages which are mailed out; in the southern United States we have heard from a Theological Seminary in Texas, from a minister in Virginia, and from interested parties in Missouri, North Carolina, and Kentucky; mail has arrived from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana. The response from Iowa almost equals that from Michigan.

While most of the letters or cards say simply: “Please send me a copy of such and such a sermon, heard on such and such a date,” there are some that express the feeling of the listener. I’d like to quote from some of them:

From South Dakota — an old retired missionary asks for a certain sermon, saying: “It was such a deep blessing, that if you have four extra copies, I would like them for some special friends. We do praise God, to hear His Beloved Son so ‘uplifted’ and pray He Himself will yet draw many through this Witness, even as He said.”

A listener from the Chicago area asks for a copy of one of the sermons because he wants to “digest its wonderful truths.”

Another listener to the broadcast over the Denver station “finds much comfort in the Reformed sermons,” and asks for as many of the old sermons as we can send.

Another from Denver: “We listen fairly regularly to your broadcast . . . are greatly inspired and instructed therefrom. While we belong to a denomination which is nominally Reformed in theology we seldom hear a message in which the great doctrines of Calvinism are preached.”

From Chicago a listener writes: “Thank you so much for sending me the copies of the broadcast. They have been a great blessing to me.”

“Too bad no station in Wisconsin carries your broadcast” . . . concludes a letter from a person who had received a printed copy of one of the broadcast sermons and had found “great comfort” in it. (By the time this is printed we will be broadcasting from a station in Wisconsin.)

From Minnesota: “The past two weeks I have tuned in on your broadcast and received a real blessing from messages given.” Asking for the recent sermon, the listener continues: “The pastor explained such good truths on mercy I would like to read them again. The dear Holy Spirit surely used this message to touch my heart.”

A minister from Virginia tells us that: “A friend sent me several of your printed broadcasts and I have greatly rejoiced in both receiving and reading them. I write to inquire if I may not be placed on your mailing list to receive them regularly; and second, to ask if I may have any back numbers to read.”

The Reformed Hope Church of Loveland, Colorado, sends a check in the amount of $200, writing: “This represents a gift which the consistory wishes your committee to use in broadcasting the Reformed Witness Hour.” One of the listeners from Loveland asks to be put on the permanent mailing list saying: “It gives me great joy to have the privilege of listening to the Reformed Witness Hour.”

“Through a chance meeting I heard a portion of your broadcast over KBOE, Oskaloosa. Inasmuch as I only got a portion of same and what I got has stuck with me, will you please send a copy of . . . .” this from another Iowan.

From Illinois a listener writes: “I considered myself quite fortunate in having the opportunity of listening to your most profound Bible message . . . . it was indeed a most logical and reasonable masterpiece. Thanks and may the Lord bless your ministry of His Word always.”

Coming a little nearer to Grand Rapids, here is one from Zeeland, Michigan. “We

listen to your broadcast over WFUR nearly every Sunday and enjoy your sermons very much.”

From Wayland, Michigan, comes this letter: “Just finished listening to the radio address . . . would like to receive a copy of it. (That the gospel hardens the wicked and brings God’s elect to repentance). We are members of the Reformed Church . . . but believe as this address so plainly sets forth.”

Several from Grand Rapids echo this thought: “We enjoy the sermons very much. We appreciate receiving them.”

Now just in case you come to the erroneous conclusion that all our mail speaks of being blessed by the sermons, I do have on hand three letters that take issue with the speaker or the message: “I heard your talk on my car radio and must agree in part that God is final and definite above all else. But I draw the line on your elect and reprobate deal.” The writer then goes on to argue this doctrine.

Another listener writes: “You gave the impression of being in total ignorance of certain facts,” and goes on to fill three pages with Bible texts, seeking to prove (I think) that God loves whosoever will come to him. The writer never really does come to any point.

The third letter defends the Jew who according to this person: “has for centuries been persecuted . . . and by the message must have been driven away from the Gospel.” The writer asks: “Do you really, honestly feel that it is showing the spirit of love to the Jew today to keep flinging the accusation into his face of what his forefathers did?”

Besides being the first to read these interesting letters, the corresponding secretary must see that the letters go to the proper party (usually the mailing committee), and that any enclosed gifts reach the treasurer; must acknowledge the gifts with a letter of thanks; must keep some records of sermons given, the number of requests received, and the state from which they are sent. The work is not as difficult nor as time consuming as that of others on the Radio Committee, and l am happy to have a part in this kingdom work of witnessing to the truth God has given to us as Protestant Reformed churches.

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

Continue reading

The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]

Continue reading

The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

Continue reading

Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

Continue reading

Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

Continue reading

Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

Continue reading