“Merry Christmas!” Or should I say… “Happy holiday!”?
Does it make any difference which terms I use?
Recently, the doctrines of political correctness have militated against the use of the words Merry Christmas. Many people have taken offense at this, strongly suggesting, even insisting upon the greeting, “Merry Christmas” as an expression of orthodoxy.
On the surface, this debate reminds me of an impassioned essay I wrote during my first semester of college. It had to do with keeping Christ in Christmas and argued against the use of the term Xmas because the true meaning of Christmas was being eclipsed by nostalgia. A few years later, while studying the history of biblical texts, I learned that almost all ancient (100 – 1300 A.D.) manuscripts of the Bible use abbreviations which were well known and accepted. For instance, X is really the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter in the Greek word Christos or Christ in English. So, rather than writing out the entire word, the transcriber would simply pen a Chi. Readers would readily recognize the abbreviation and would read Christ.
So, my good intentions were misinformed, even though they may have been applicable in a society which had replaced the true meaning of Christmas with sentimental commercialism.
Similarly, our traditional “Merry Christmas” is a festive greeting which is developed around “Christ mass,” which has been traditionally celebrated on December 25 (Julian calendar) or January 6 (Georgian calendar), since about the fourth century. The coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas day 800 A.D. did much to promote this annual celebration. In later centuries, German influence introduced Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Victorian England (19th century), and especially Charles Dickens added even more traditions. The stage was then set for American contributions and embellishments by Norman Rockwell, advertisements, and now Hallmark!
All this to say that the idea of Christmas is a complex one. It incorporates historic information concerning the birth of Christ, combined with, tradition, nostalgia and commercialism. Although Christmas initially began as a Christian holiday, it has morphed into much more.
Speaking of holiday, think of the political rival of “Merry Christmas” – “Happy Holidays.” The greeting “happy holidays” has become increasingly popular because it can be interpreted to include the Jewish holy day of Hanukkah.
The term holiday is also a conflation of terms – holy day, most, usually referring to Christmas eve and Christmas day. Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas and is likewise regarded as a full or partial holiday in anticipation of Christmas day. Many Christians begin their annual celebration of the birth of Christ on the evening before with special services.
Again, what was initiated as Christian worship has been surpassed by secularism. The term holiday, in our culture refers to various days of significance. Thus, we have national holidays such as the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day. We have informal holidays such as “Super Bowl Sunday” which has more recently emerged as the supreme secular holiday.
Whatever Christmas means to you, it remains an excellent opportunity to reflect upon its origin. Christmas was initiated to remember and reflect upon the birth of Jesus and to consider its significance. From the Bible’s perspective, the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment and consummation of a host of promises made by God and recorded throughout the Old Testament, which both anticipates and foretells the coming of the Messiah. This Promised One would be a source of blessing to all nations (fulfilling the promises of God to Abraham), be a descendent of David, who would rule in righteousness forever (fulfilling God’s promise to David), and fulfill many other prophetic promises.
The New Testament passages reporting the birth of Jesus are found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Many of the details of the traditional Christmas story are found here. Matthew records that a young virgin named Mary is to be the mother of the Messiah. Joseph would be his adoptive father, but “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” This baby would be named Jesus because he would “save his people from their sins.” He is Immanuel – God with us.
Luke provides the details of the journey to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born and placed in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn. Heavenly Angels announce the birth of a Savior, who is Christ the Lord to shepherds who are grazing their flocks at night. The shepherds rushed to see him. Matthew speaks of other visitors – “wise men from the East” who offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
For decades, even centuries, Christians sought to explain and articulate what occurred in Bethlehem when Christ was born. Who was he really? Why did this happen? What does it mean?
The Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) is an excellent summary, addressing these issues. Notice the second article, which I have highlighted. Ponder these thoughts.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; Who, for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost…
Who is this baby in the manger? “God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father… Was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man…
Why did this happen? “For us… And for our salvation… Crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was betrayed in the third day he rose again…”
What does this mean? The Lord Jesus Christ became one with us in our weakness, suffered for us, atoning for our guilt through his crucifixion and death; and the third day he rose again… And he is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead.
Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! Christmas is Merry because it shows that God is keeping his promise to save his people from their sin. Have a happy holiday. This is only possible because:
… Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit… 1 Peter 3.18