They forget, in their confusion, that the great principles, spiritual and moral, remain absolutely intact. They forget that, after all the shattering discoveries of science and conclusions of philosophy, mankind has still to live with dignity amid hostile nature, and in the presence of an unknowable power and that mankind can only succeed in this tremendous feat by the exercise of faith and of that mutual goodwill which is based in sincerity and charity. They forget that, while facts are nothing, these principles are everything. And so, at that epoch of the year which nature herself has ordained for the formal recognition of the situation of mankind in the universe and of its resulting duties to itself and to the Unknown—at that epoch, they bewail, sadly or impatiently or cynically: “Oh! The bottom has been knocked out of Christmas!”
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But the bottom has not been knocked out of Christmas. And people know it. Somewhere, in the most central and mysterious fastness of their hearts, they know it. If they were not, in spite of themselves, convinced of it, why should they be so pathetically anxious to keep alive in themselves, and to foster in their children, the Christmas spirit? Obviously, a profound instinct is for ever reminding them that, without the Christmas spirit, they are lost. The forms of faith change, but the spirit of faith, which is the Christmas spirit, is immortal amid its endless vicissitudes. At a crisis of change, faith is weakened for the majority; for the majority it may seem to be dead. It is conserved, however, in the hearts of the few supremely great and in the hearts of the simple. The supremely great are hidden from the majority; but the simple are seen of all men, and them we encourage, often without knowing why, to be the depositaries of that which we cannot ourselves guard, but which we dimly feel to be indispensable to our safety.
THE SOLSTICE AND GOOD WILL
In order to see that there is underlying Christmas an idea of faith which will at any rate last as long as the planet lasts, it is only necessary to ask and answer the question: “Why was the Christmas feast fixed for the twenty-fifth of December?” For it is absolutely certain, and admitted by everybody of knowledge, that Christ was not born on the twenty-fifth of December. Those disturbing impassioned inquirers after truth, who will not leave us peaceful in our ignorance, have settled that for us, by pointing out, among other things, that the twenty-fifth of December falls in the very midst of the Palestine rainy season, and that, therefore, shepherds were assuredly not on that date watching their flocks by night.
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