It is the 9th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1621.
Three hundred ninety-nine years ago, the first shots were fired in the original North American "War on Christmas." After the harrowing trip on the Mayflower and the devastation of famine and death in the ensuing year, Governor William Bradford was not about to let unauthorized mirth and merry-making destroy the young colony. Ironically, the Puritans who left England were fleeing arbitrary civil laws that regulated their religion's practice. But the Puritans would not have believed that laws against Christmas were arbitrary. Puritans mocked what they called "fools' tide," and if the 25th of December fell on any day but a Sunday, it was customary to lock the churches to ensure no one sought to gather on that day to recognize extra-biblical practices.
The "puritans," with whatever exaggerations you choose, were probably more concerned about ecclesiastical purity than personal purity. (But note: both were undoubtedly important). The "pure" in "Puritan" refers to the purity of worship. They did not believe that the reforms of Henry VIII went far enough in purifying the church from Catholic practice.
We have met many dissenters on this Almanac and many early Modern English dissenters. And many fled to foreign lands to escape persecution. But there is one group that took notes, told stories, and printed their works. The Mayflower pilgrims took meticulous attention to how they told their story and described their ordeal. Because of these records, we know several things, including the fact that the first known sermon ever given on American soil was preached on this, the 9th of December in 1621.
Robert Cushman gave the sermon. Cushman served as one of the agents who negotiated between Leiden (where these Puritans had fled) and London (who had to give these Puritans a charter for going to America). Cushman had been a ringleader for this group that initially came out of Canterbury. He had written a book, "The Cry of a Stone," which laid out the basic tenets of these Puritan separatists against the "superstitious" Anglicans. Cushman had been in plenty of trouble from his home parish. He had been excommunicated for failing to attend church and for distributing unauthorized tracts.
But Cushman's sermon, now in the American colony, was bereft of his previous work's anti-Anglican and anti-Papal content. This sermon, the first recorded on American soil, was entitled "The Sin and Danger of Self Love." The sermon was based on 1 Corinthians 10:24: "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth." This is not the later spirit of the scrappy self-sufficient American, but rather a picture of good government as they saw it, with the "common wealth" stressed over individual liberties. For what it is worth, this sermon is more proof of the distance between these early Puritans and the later Enlightenment founding fathers.
These Puritans loom large in our collective American memory, partly because of their meticulous record-keeping and publishing, including that of the first English sermon on American soil, which was delivered on this day, the 9th of December 1621.
The Seasonal reading for today comes from one of the true bards of Christmas. This is "A Christmas Carol Poem” by G.K. Chesterton.
The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)
The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the 2nd Lieutenant in the Gingerbread division in the war on Christmas, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.