For many years (it feels like most of my life, actually), the debate about seasonal greetings has carried on. We hear “Happy Holidays” with increasing frequency in the world around us. Meanwhile, many Christians respond (often with more than a hint of frustration) “It’s Merry Christmas!” as though this is the proper Christian greeting during Advent. The debate always struck me as interesting for a few reasons.
First, the word holiday is a derivative of “holy day,” so Happy Holidays is religiously rooted like Merry Christmas. Second, the admonition to have a ‘merry’ Christmas was first used in the 16th century by a soon-to-be executed bishop in England asking for warmer clothes for his stay in prison in a letter to Thomas Cromwell. However, it wasn’t popularized until much later in 1843 when Charles Dickens put these words in the mouth of Scrooge at the end of “A Christmas Carol” (at least according to some sources). Whether by that path or another, the origin of the phrase is relatively recent and certainly not rooted in scripture. What reason is there to be frustrated about it, then? Third, I never understood the expectation that non-Christian’s ought to speak and live in the same way Christians live and speak. Certainly our calling is to invite the world into a relationship with Christ and a changed life, but to expect them to live and speak like us before they believe like us seems unreasonable.
More than anything, however, the fierceness of the debate confused me because this season represents such a critically important opportunity for the body of Christ, and the opportunity is not related to proper seasonal greetings. Think about it, a vast majority of the country is celebrating a holiday without knowing the origins or meaning of the celebration. That shouldn’t generate anger; it ought to generate excitement and commitment to tell the story well among those of us who believe that the birth of the Son of God was history-changing! As we’ve said each of the last two Sundays: we can’t tell people that Christmas means that God loves the world without becoming agents of that love, especially during this season.
There is someone in your sphere of influence – perhaps in your own family, at your office or in your neighborhood – who desperately needs a word of hope and love this Christmas season. Will you be the vehicle by which they are comforted, encouraged, lifted up? A yard sign invitation to our Christmas Eve services might seem inconsequential, until it becomes the means by which a lonely widower is reminded that there are still people who care about him. A handwritten note on a postcard invitation to Christmas Eve services might feel like a burden, unless it leads to a family in crisis hearing about the hope of the Christmas story. Find a way to be an agent of Christ’s love, whether it brings someone to church or not!