In the last few decades, we have somehow been conned into the idea that there is a strict separation of God and state in the public square of America. But that is so clearly out of step with our traditions, including our Christmas traditions.
Some past presidents have made interesting Christmas observations worth sharing. I acknowledge my thanks to author/speaker Bill Federer and his book, America’s God and Country, which has been quoted by the Supreme Court (Greece v. Galloway, 2014).
When he was very young, George Washington wrote out the following Christmas poem in his own handwriting, apparently copied out from the February 1743 issue of Gentleman’s Magazine (London). It reflects the orthodox understanding of the incarnation—God becoming man in the Person of Jesus—who is Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”
Washington wrote out:
ON CHRISTMAS DAY
Assist me Muse divine to sing the morn,
On which the Savior of mankind was born;
But oh! what numbers to the theme can rise?
Unless kind angels aid me from the skies?
Methinks I see the tunefull Host descend,
Hark, by their hymns directed on the road,
The gladsome Shepherds find the nascent God!
And view the infant conscious of his birth,
Smiling bespeak salvation to the earth!
For when the important era first drew near
In which the great Messiah should appear
And to accomplish His redeeming love
Resign a while his glorious throne above.
Beneath our form every woe sustain
And by triumphant suffering fix His reign
Should for lost man in tortures yield his breath,
Dying to save us from eternal death!
Oh mystic Union! Salutary grace!
Incarnate God our nature should embrace!
That Deity should stoop to our disguise!
That man recovered should regain the skies!
Dejected Adam! From thy Grave ascend
And view the Serpent's Deadly Malice end,
Adoring bless the Almighty's boundless grace
That gave his son a ransom for thy race!
There are people who claim Washington was a Deist, but Dr. Peter Lillback and I document that our first president was clearly a devout Trinitarian Christian in our book, George Washington’s Sacred Fire (2006), and this poem is but an example. The documented evidence shows that Washington worshiped Jesus as the divine Savior and Lord all his life.
Jumping ahead to the 20th century, we see some remarkable statements from President Harry S. Truman, as he was lighting the national Christmas tree on December 24, 1946: “The message of Bethlehem best sums up our hopes tonight. If we as a nation, and the other nations of the world, will accept it, the star of faith will guide us into the place of peace as it did the shepherds on that day of Christ's birth long ago.”
Truman went on to talk about how our nation has seen “the fundamental unity of Christianity and democracy.” Sin still prevails, noted our 33rd president, but Christmas provides an antidote: “Selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles. He whose birth we celebrate tonight was the world's greatest teacher. He said: ‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.’ Through all the centuries since He spoke, history has vindicated His teaching.”
He also added, “We have our unique national heritage because of a common aspiration to be free and because of our purpose to achieve for ourselves and for our children the good things of life which the Christ declared He came to give to all mankind.”
When John F. Kennedy lit the Christmas tree on December 17, 1962, in the Pageant of Peace Ceremonies, he declared, “With the lighting of this tree, which is an old ceremony in Washington and one which has been among the most important responsibilities of a good many Presidents of the United States, we initiate in a formal way the Christmas Season. We mark the festival of Christmas, which is the most sacred and hopeful day in our civilization. For nearly two thousand years the message of Christmas, the message of peace and good will towards all men, has been the guiding star of our endeavors....[Even people of other faiths] pause from their labors on the 25th day of December to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace.”
I close these presidential reflections on Christmas with President Reagan’s radio address to the nation at Christmastime 1983: “Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great teacher and philosopher. But to other millions of us, Jesus is much more. He is divine, living assurance that God so loved the world He gave us His only begotten Son so that by believing in Him and learning to love each other we could one day be together in paradise.”