Rev. Gregory Armstrong of S.S. Morris Community AME Church
Christmas past and present
    Christmas was also about visiting people, giving gifts and sharing a repast with each other. “I also remember those Christmas dinners and special people who
were alive then. We went to see them and you wanted to make sure you had the perfect gift that was appropriate for that person and expressed what they meant
to you. There were people who made cakes and all of those nice things that I loved to eat then. I would lick the bowl and the utensils and stuff of that nature,
things that I ate so feverishly back then that I can’t eat so much of now. It was the sweet potato pies, the German chocolate cake and the coconut cakes.
Somehow, they made their way to the house. That is what Christmas was about.”
    In the midst of the joy and comraderie, there were still all of those presents. “There was the exchange of gifts,” Armstrong reflected. “What gifts did I have?
What gifts did my other siblings have? I would also love to ask my friends and neighbors what they got for Christmas. Christmas is so much about that.”
For Armstrong, Christmas also was about going to church. “Certain people played a very significant and important part in the celebration of Christmas,” Armstrong
said. “We went to Christmas cantatas and heard the choir sing ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ and ‘Oh Holy Night.’ Not only did it touch you musically, but it
touched you in your own soul, in your own heart. There was the whole decorum and aura that made Christmas not so much about Jesus in a manger, but what
God gave to the world. He came into a dark world.”
    Armstrong equates some of that darkness now to the way that commercialism has taken over Christmas. “It’s the dark world of commercialism where more and
more Christmas starts in September,” Armstrong lamented. “You go to stores and you see so many Christmas trees and all of the Christmas decorations and lights.
It takes away from the true meaning of what Christmas is.”
    In looking back, Armstrong realizes just how much he and his family were blessed to have those special times. “When I think back so warmly on the
Christmases of my youth, now that I have experienced the world, I realized that not everyone has that type of experience at Christmas,” Armstrong said. “There
are so many children who didn’t have Christmas like that. They didn’t know what it was like to have old Mrs. Chestnut who made the best German chocolate
cakes. You would just sit there and devour it. But that was my experience. As I grew older and became more knowledgeable, I realized that wasn’t everyone’s
experience. There are children who come from broken homes and broken families who didn’t have a family. There’s a family that has been coming to our
church. I posed a question to one of the little girls ‘What are you getting for Christmas?’ And she replied that her daddy said ‘I don’t think we can have a
Christmas this year.’”

Rev. Gregory Armstrong will be giving the Christmas homily on Sunday morning between 7 – 9 a.m. during “Let’s Go to Church,” 1670 AM on the radio dial.

Next issue: More about the meaning of Christmas
By Jonathan Gramling

Part 1 of 2

   For Rev. Gregory Armstrong, pastor of S.S. Morris Community AME Church, Christmas isn’t a
time of crass commercialism or a time of complete austerity. There is something behind gift
giving that has meaning and beauty. “The meaning of Christmas is still there,” Armstrong said
during an interview with The Capital City Hues. “Sometimes, it is just camouflaged. So much of
what Christmas is, is the giving of gifts.”
   Reflecting on Christmas took Armstrong back to his childhood when he was one of eight
children and his parents did not have great means at their disposal. “As I think about Christmas, so
much of it is influenced by what I experienced as a child,” Armstrong said. “We would wait for that
moment when we could look under the Christmas tree and see what Santa had brought us. We
just jump in and tear the wrapping off of the gifts and Christmas paper would be spread all over
the house. Eventually my mom would get on us and say ‘Now you have to clean this all up.’ My
parents would struggle so hard to make sure everyone had something under the Christmas tree.
Some of my brothers and I would search all over the house looking in various secret places to find
out where the toys and gifts were. My parents struggled to give us gifts. Yet it was just a happy
time.”
Rev. Gregory Armstrong, pastor of S.S. Morris Community
AME Church (r) with wife