WHITE HOUSE

President Carter gives his Christmas message to the nation as the Middle East teeters between war and peace.

Carter is to light the national Christmas tree Thursday.

Amid the yuletide spirit, the President will get progress reports from Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, who returns from NATO talks in Brussels and a tour of the Middle East on Thursday, and Sen. John H. Chafee, who is scheduled to return from arms limitation negotiations in Geneva the same day.

Vance returns one day after Middle East peace talks are to begin in Cairo with representative from the United States, Israel and Egypt.

White House aide Hamilton Jordan is in Panama at the invitation of President Omar Torrijos and on Saturday Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland travels to Brussels for talks with Common Market agriculture minister Finn Gundelach.

Carter will be meeting with Japanese overseas economic affairs minister Nobuhiko Ushiba, who is here for five days of talks on U.S.-Japan trade problems. Carter is to meet with Japmaican Prime Minister Michael Manley on Friday.

On the domestic front, negotiations are continuing between United Mine Workers and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. Neither side is optimistic that a settlement is in sight.

Steelworkers will be watching the outcome of Carter's talks with Japan's Ushiba. The seelworkers blame steel imports for the diminishing number of jobs in the industry.

Farmers, in town to discuss their problems with presidential aides, plan to drive a caravan of farm vehicles around the White House prior to a rally on the Ellipse as part of demonstrations around the country. A nationwide strike is planned Wednesday.

Meanwhile, several meetings during the week give Carter assessments of the nation's economic health. A committee to develop a voluntary hospital and health care cost containment program will meet today. On Tuesday, the National Economists Club holds a seminar on the two-year economic outlook. CAPITOL HILL

With only three bills left on their floor calendars, talk about sine die adjournment is rife. COngressional leaders are discussing what day they can end the session. Talk on the HOuse side includes an arrangement in which the House would adjourn Thursday, letting the Senate decide its own date. On the Senate side, majority leader Robert C. Byrd is understood to be broaching a speedy windup.

A decision on ending the session is expected Thursday, when both houses have scheduled action on the remaining bills.

Both the House and the Senate have agreed to consider a Social Security conference report. Also on the Senate calendar is the Legal Services conference report and the supplemental appropriations bill, which could die over a hassle between with the House over the B-1 bomber.

Energy conferees are making progress, but at a pace so slow few members expect an agreement before Christmas.

Eight Senate committees, four in the House, plus the energy conferees will meet this week. Three days of hearings on New York City's financial affairs open Wednesday before the Senate Banking Committee. On Tuesday the Senate Agriculture Committee will study the safety of workers in the pesticide industry. The House Ways and Means Committee is meeting all week to mark up a jobs and income act, and a House Commerce subcommittee will discuss the effects of ratings and advertising practices on minority-owned broadcast stations.

A Senate Government Affairs subcommittee will meet Wednesday and Thursday on "urban arson-for-profit."