We’ve all heard the traditional Christmas greeting of Merry Christmas, but in recent years more people are not saying “Merry Christmas,” but rather “Happy Holidays!” It’s been proclaimed by Fox News and other political people as “The War on Christmas,” which is curious. Why would political tv and radio shows care about Christmas in the first place? When did Christmas have something to do with being a “conservative” or “liberal?” Why does Christian have to do with being “republican” or “democrat?”
The trouble with “The War on Christmas” is that those who seek to defend Christmas do so not to defend the reason for the season, but actually do so to promote their political cause at the expense of the political opponent. It is interesting that people will say “Happy Holidays” to someone and someone will respond with self-righteous anger or pride in retorting “Merry Christmas!!!” or they will become bitter about someone who may have merely desired to say something nice to someone else in light of both Christmas and New Year’s in the immediate future.
Sometimes, there is the assumption that someone is referring to Christmas alone when they say “Happy Holidays” when in reality they may be seeking to provide a well-wish for both Christmas and New Year’s in one statement, as a sort of abbreviation for saying both “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”
Of course, the concern about “Happy Holidays” is that it is removing Christ from the greeting by stating a general greeting without specific reference to Jesus Christ. However, I don’t know that Christmas is entirely Christ-centered in itself in our American culture to begin with and I don’t believe saying “Merry Christmas” to someone is the same as saying “God sent Jesus into the world to reveal Himself and reconcile sinners to God by His grace through faith,” or even an abbreviated version of “God saves sinners,” or “The Gospel,” or “The Good News of Jesus Christ.” How many have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ by hearing the words “Merry Christmas?”
Now, it would seem like I am against saying “Merry Christmas,” but I assure you that precisely the opposite is true. I say “Merry Christmas” every year to family, friends, and strangers. However, “Merry Christmas” is understood to be a greeting that people say around Christmas in our country (the UK says “Happy Christmas,” etc), but it is often the equivalent of someone saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes. Now, when someone says “God bless you” they are not telling someone the Gospel message, they are merely being polite. When someone says “Merry Christmas” in our country and culture, it is typically to the same effect of merely being polite and friendly. That doesn’t mean I don’t mean “Merry Christmas” differently than our culture, but it does mean that our culture likely understands it differently than me because not everyone in our culture believes in Jesus.
When Charlie Brown was confused about the meaning and purpose of Christmas and was concerned it was just some commercial holiday, it wasn’t someone wishing him “Merry Christmas” or even saying the word “Christmas” that cleared things up for him, it took the blue blanket-toting Linus to step onto a literal stage and proclaim a portion of Scripture from Luke 2. The same is true for us in the non-cartoon real world. We don’t hear the meaning of Christmas with the mere passing reference “Merry Christmas,” which is just as likely to be heard over a dozen times on television or the radio, we hear the meaning of Christmas when we hear the message of the Gospel.
If someone were sharing Luke 2 or Matthew 1 or John 3:16 with someone in order to share the meaning of Christmas, but they left Jesus Christ out of each Scripture passage, then there would be a more significant problem. However, if that is a problem that existed among non-Christians (as it indeed does with many), why should that be any surprise to Christians that non-Christians are not believing or rejecting Christ? It wouldn’t. Now, with people who might not be Christian saying “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas” on the grounds that they are leaving Christ out and making Christmas a secular holiday, that doesn’t really make much sense to someone who is already a non-Christian.
The reality is that Christians, like myself, celebrate Christmas in commemoration of the coming of God into the world, the incarnation, God with us in Jesus Christ, the inauguration of God’s plan to save humanity from sin in Jesus Christ as He promised. The reality is also that for non-Christians who don’t believe Jesus is God, who don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah/Christ, who don’t believe Jesus arose from the dead, who don’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin, who may not believe Jesus even existed; it should not surprise us that Christmas is merely a time to gather with family, spend ridiculous amounts of money on presents for friends and loved ones, decorate houses and trees, sing songs, eat cookies, watch fun movies with the family, drinks warm beverages, and have time off of work/school.
My point is that we as Christians should not assume Christian behavior and reverence for Jesus Christ among non-Christians.
I don’t believe non-Christians would expect Christians to observe and respect pagan festivals or greet one another saying something like “Hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster!” Of course, that would be ridiculous. Christmas has been absorbed by our American culture and many other cultures as a family holiday and a commercial/economic holiday. Those who are trying to fight the war for Christmas to be exclusively a Christian holiday without any secular/commercial/non-Christian aspect to it are fighting a war that has been over long ago, if it could be called a war.
I am not disputing the reality that there is a movement in the US of an increased hostility to Christianity evidenced by the removing of Christian groups from college campuses, but the reality is that there are some who celebrate Christmas as a holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnation, and there are others who celebrate Christmas as a holiday with family and commercialized festivities. There are also a great number who celebrate both the family and commercial aspects along with the Christian celebration of Christmas.
Christianity at one time did have a place at the table per se in the United States where Christians were respected people whom communities would look to as central to the community. However, times have changed and Christianity no longer holds a place at the table. The culture has changed as our culture has become pluralistic religiously and increasingly pagan in regards to morality. We can’t expect as Christians for our culture to listen to us anymore, as if we have the right to be heard. We now have to earn that place and right to be heard, whereas, before it was automatic, it is no longer. An example of this is that I live in New England and if I were to approach someone and begin talking to them about Jesus and their need to believe the Gospel, they would (and have) become quite defensive, cold, and quite possibly abrasive to the point that I would no longer have the opportunity to talk to that person in the future. However, if I were to take time to get to know and understand and relate to that same person, then in time after having gotten to know the person shared the Gospel with them, they would respond quite differently than the first scenario. They might not believe upon hearing the Gospel, but would lend me an open ear and give me the time of day in order to share the Gospel whereas before they certainly would not. This is in microcosm what it is like with our broader culture.
We can no longer assume the right to be heard, we need to take the time to get to know people, understand people, and earn that right.
If someone were to say “Merry Christmas!” or “Merry X-mas!” or even “Merry X-men!” we don’t have to get angry and bitter with people because they didn’t provide us with the greeting we desire to provide them, we can simply respond, “Thank you! Merry Christmas!” They merely mean to provide us with a courtesy and kind gesture, not a catechism of the Christian faith. I know that nobody is saying “Merry X-men!” As for X-mas, it is odd that people have issue with it because early Christians abbreviated Christ with the letter X which is a Chi in the Greek. Even Jesus was abbreviated in the Greek manuscripts from which we have the New Testament. It wasn’t a cultural effort to minimize Christ or remove Christ, but it was merely abbreviation.
I would argue that as we live in an increasingly post-Christian context in the US, people do not readily understand even the meaning behind the word so many Christians defend, “Christ.” Christ is the Greek form of Messiah which means “Anointed One” and has connotations linked to the Old Testament prophecy of the people of Israel of One who would come to bring salvation to God’s people Israel from the occupation and oppression of foreign oppressors and the establishing of a kingdom for Israel on earth.
The New Testament reveals that Jesus is this promised and prophesied Christ or Messiah, but He is more than just a human agent to bring salvation or establish some kingdom, He is God in the flesh, and His salvation and kingdom are greater than imagined or expected. His salvation was not from the Romans, but from sin. His Kingdom was not a Jewish empire on earth, but the Kingdom of God, bringing Heaven to earth through a Kingdom of peace, justice, and righteousness advanced through His church in all the world as the Good News of the Savior, the Christ, the Messiah, spreads to every tribe, tongue, and nation. Now, most people in the US do not understand the theological connotations of the word Christ, therefore, while there might be a connection of Christmas to Jesus among non-Christians possibly, there is not a framework for understanding the identity or purpose of Jesus in the world. Some basic Christian words could have been assumed in the past in our culture and country, but they can be assumed no longer.
Perhaps we should not get so upset about whether people use the word “Holiday” as opposed to “Christmas” in their greeting, and start caring more about the meaning of Christmas ourselves? What if more energy were put into honoring God with our lives as opposed to merely honoring a word with our mouths? Perhaps we should spend more time voicing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our friends and family and everyone we know and less time voicing our disdain for all the ways our friend, family, and everyone else are not measuring up to how we would like them to live and be? Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are even measuring up to what it is we demand of others to measure up to?
Hopefully, you can see by now, my intent is not to attack “Merry Christmas” or to defend “Happy Holidays,” but rather to question the sentiment that spends so much energy being bitter and angered in defense of “Merry Christmas” that the Gospel living that we are called to live as Christians is sacrificed. People hear the Truth of the Gospel and the Truth of Christmas, but sometimes that Truth can be soured by the decidedly un-joyful, bitter, and self-righteously indignant demands of a people who proclaim one thing yet live another. This Christmas, I hope that we can all spend less time arguing over the words “Merry Christmas” and more time proclaiming the Truth of the Good News of Christmas which is that God is with us in Jesus Christ and all who would turn from a life of sin and trust and believe in God through Jesus Christ as revealed in God’s Word (the Bible) can be reconciled to God and know the very “peace” that the angels proclaimed would be for “men which he is pleased” in Luke 2. Joy and peace might be words that carry a great number of meanings for people and are used in very general ways on Christmas cards by Hallmark, but for the Christian, there is no greater joy and no greater or more real peace than knowing God through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. What greater peace is there than having ones sins entirely forgiven by God in Jesus Christ? What greater joy is there than having to no longer fear death because Jesus has conquered death and death has lost it’s sting to all who believe in Him because all who believe inherit eternal life? What greater peace and joy is there than knowing God and no longer being alone on the journey we call life, but having God with us?
Jesus is our peace and our joy. The whole world will not rejoice that God is with us, Immanuel, in Jesus the Christ, but I pray that Christians would spend more time rejoicing and praising God for the greatest gift ever given – Christ the Lord.