When Nobody Said “Merry Christmas”

We’re well into the month of December and that means that preparing for Christmas is in full swing. In fact one could argue that preparing for Christmas is pretty much in full swing by November these days. However, the point is that we’re right in the midst of the Christmas season.

Of course being in the Christmas season always brings with it a battle, at least for some people. This battle is largely a battle of phrases. Every year around this time is when the phrases “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” decide to go to war. This war takes place in churches and in department stores and I’m not really sure who wins. It’s a lot of fighting and noise, but I never notice much change at the end of the season.

I can’t say that I’ve ever really been a supporter of this war. Phrases like “Keep Christ in Christmas” have always seemed a bit naive to me. That by simply saying Christmas meant that you understood what it really meant. I grew up celebrating Christmas, but never really understood what it was all about. My family knew it was connected to religion somehow, but they weren’t really entirely sure how. So simply saying Merry Christmas doesn’t really make it better as if the mere utterance of the words worked some kind of Christian magic.

I could belabor that point, but instead I wonder why this war is so important to us in the first place? The idea that “Happy Holidays” is some kind of affront to Christmas is a connection I don’t entirely see. I see it more as a acknowledgement of our country’s belief of freedom of religion that is starting to get pressure to include religions beyond Christianity. There may be some latent hostility towards Christmas in the picture for some people, but even then I say so what?

This whole battle just kind of makes me scratch my head. Jesus came into this world at a time when nobody said “Merry Christmas.” In fact he entered the world with very few people taking notice and even fewer of those were people of any earthly power. Jesus himself entered a world that was naturally hostile to him. In fact King Herod was seeking his death as soon as he knew of his birth and we know that Jesus’ earthly ministry doesn’t end with him getting honorary holidays from the religious and political leaders of the day, but with a crucifix. Did Jesus decide to withhold grace, mercy, and love due to this hostility? Or did he come into this world planning to love us unconditionally and give his life up for us. A life that was taken by the very people that he came to save.

If this is how Jesus lived than how are we to be approaching Christmas? In anger and frustration because people are saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? By promoting boycotts and rating sellers based on their commitment to saying what we think are the right words? Or are we to respond in love and grace? The same love and grace that we claim to have received from Jesus. The love and grace that he showed to a world that didn’t say “Merry Christmas” or throw royal parties for him, but instead sought to kill him from the very day of his birth, challenged and didn’t really understand his ministry, and eventually hung him on the cross.

If Jesus can show love in the midst of hostility, maybe we could too? That’s of course assuming that there is always hostility lying underneath every proclamation of “Happy Holidays.” If there isn’t than all the more reason we should be loving and graceful to those who say it, even if we prefer to say “Merry Christmas.”

I think we should be more dismayed if the celebration of Christmas suddenly lacked all these nuances and everyone said “Merry Christmas” with no hesitation and little thought. After all, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus and it was this birth of God Incarnate that incited hostility, inspired praise, was unnoticed by many, caused misunderstandings, and turned the world on its head. It is almost more comforting and more real to me that it still evokes those range of reactions today. Ultimately, Jesus didn’t come to this world to have people say “Merry Christmas,” but to be God among us, show us the love of God, and draw us closer to Him. These are goals that are worthy of carrying on and I don’t think they hinge on the words “Merry Christmas,” but rather on the One whom we’re celebrating.

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