In his Dec. 24, 1983 radio address to the nation, President Ronald Reagan recounted George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776, which changed the course of U.S. history; praised Americans for their generosity; and talked about Christmas as the “birthday of the Prince of Peace” who, for millions of us, “is divine.”
“It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth,” says Reagan.
Like so many of your homes, the White House is brimming with greens, colorful decorations, and a tree trimmed and ready for Christmas day. And when Nancy and I look out from our upstairs windows, we can see the National Christmas Tree standing in majestic beauty. Its lights fill the air with a spirit of love, hope, and joy from the heart of America.
I shared that spirit recently when a young girl named Amy Benham helped me light our national tree. Amy had said that the tree that lights up our country must be seen all the way to heaven. And she said that her wish was to help me turn on its lights. Well, Amy’s wish came true. But the greatest gift was mine, because I saw her eyes light up with hope and joy just as brightly as the lights on our national tree. And I’m sure they were both seen all the way to heaven, and they made the angels sing.
Christmas is a time for children, and rightly so. We celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace who came as a babe in a manger. 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.
It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth.
Christmas is also a time to remember the treasures of our own history. We remember one Christmas in particular, 1776, our first year as a nation. The Revolutionary War had been going badly. But George Washington’s faith, courage, and leadership would turn the tide of history our way. On Christmas night he led a band of ragged soldiers across the Delaware River through driving snow to a victory that saved the cause of independence. It’s said that their route of march was stained by bloody footprints, but their spirit never faltered and their will could not be crushed.
The image of George Washington kneeling in prayer in the snow is one of the most famous in American history. He personified a people who knew it was not enough to depend on their own courage and goodness; they must also seek help from God, their Father and Preserver.
In a few hours, families and friends across America will join together in caroling parties and Christmas Eve services. Together, we’ll renew that spirit of faith, peace, and giving which has always marked the character of our people. In our moments of quiet reflection I know we will remember our fellow citizens who may be lonely and in need tonight.
“Is the Christmas spirit still alive?” some ask. Well, you bet it is. Being Americans, we open our hearts to neighbors less fortunate. We try to protect them from hunger and cold. And we reach out in so many ways — from toys-for-tots drives across the country, to good will by the Salvation Army, to American Red Cross efforts which provide food, shelter, and Christmas cheer from Atlanta to Seattle.
Churches are so generous it’s impossible to keep track. One example: Reverend Bill Singles’ Presbyterian Meeting House in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, is simultaneously sponsoring hot meals on wheels programs, making and delivering hundreds of sandwiches and box loads of clothes, while visiting local hospitals and sending postcards to shut-ins and religious dissidents abroad.
Let us remember the families who maintain a watch for their missing in action. And, yes, let us remember all those who are persecuted inside the Soviet bloc — not because they commit a crime, but because they love God in their hearts and want the freedom to celebrate Hanukkah or worship the Christ Child.
And because faith for us is not an empty word, we invoke the power of prayer to spread the spirit of peace. We ask protection for our soldiers who are guarding peace tonight — from frigid outposts in Alaska and the Korean demilitarized zone to the shores of Lebanon. One Lebanese mother told us that her little girl had only attended school 2 of the last 8 years. Now, she said, because of our presence there her daughter can live a normal life.
With patience and firmness we can help bring peace to that strife-torn region and make our own lives more secure. The Christmas spirit of peace, hope, and love is the spirit Americans carry with them all year round, everywhere we go. As long as we do, we need never be afraid, because trusting in God is the one sure answer to all the problems we face.
Till next week, thanks for listening, God bless you, and Merry Christmas.
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