Merry Christmas

I wish you a Merry Christmas.

And I extend that wish to all, no matter what your religious belief.

As one commenter noted, to say “Merry Christmas” is itself no more Christian than saying “Happy Thursday” is Viking. The Viking reference (to the Norse god Thor) comes from a USA Today Survey:  For many, Jesus is not the Reason for the Season.  The survey revealed:

62% of people who follow non-Christian religions still celebrate Christmas, along with 89% of people who say they’re agnostic or have no religious identity and 55% of atheists.

Over the years, Christians adopted some pre-Christian practices into of their Christian celebrations. I suppose that it is only fair that the general culture adopted them right back.

There is nothing inherently Christian about Tannenbäume, holly, ivy, yule logs, candle lighting, Santa Claus, flying reindeer, frosty snowmen, chestnuts-roasting-on-an-open fire, Glühwein, winter festivals, family gatherings, gift-giving and the like. Wonderful things, all. For generations, these things have been part of Christmas, so called. To these time-honored traditions, our culture has recently added celebrations of “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday” and shop-until-you-drop. Not quite as wonderful, but a part of the Christmas culture nonetheless.

To call these things “Christmas,” it seems to me, is significant for secular, not religious reasons. “Happy holidays” indeed, if you celebrate something else. Enjoy your own festive and sacred occasions. But Christmas is part of a cultural deposit that really transcends religion. Our cultural Christmas traditions bring us together and have a (mostly) salutary effect on our society. It’s a wonderful life. So don’t be a Grinch. Don’t be a Scrooge. Love extravagantly, live exuberantly and hold on to hope in the dark days of winter. Get out of the house and spend time with your friends and neighbors. Put another lump of coal on the fire for poor Bob Cratchit.  Open up your heart and your wallet for sick little Tiny Tim. If secular Christmas can help us appreciate life and love our neighbors, it’s a good thing. This has been the best of secular “Christmas” and it’s been around for hundreds of years.

So Merry Christmas to all.

Thus I no longer feel the need to fight against Christmas as the western world observes it; there is a certain measure of common grace present in secular Christmas traditions. But if we are talking specifically about the Christian faith, I have to judge that secular Christmas is incomplete at best (and inimical the gospel at its worst). So while I enjoy the “Christmas season” as much as the next person, it is not where I find religious significance in the month of December.

The Christian season of Advent is taking place while most of the world is shopping for presents and listening to “Rocking around the Christmas Tree.” And contrary to some popular notions, Advent is not “four weeks of getting ready for Christmas.”

On December 24-25, the Christian church celebrates the solemn feast of the Nativity. The word became flesh. The light that shines in the darkness became visible. Israel’s savior and king has been born. The hopes of the prophets have been fulfilled. God’s sacrificial redemption of the world has been set into motion.

The Christian Christmas runs from December 25 to the feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Just when the rest of the world gets tired of Christmas, the Christian church starts to celebrate. The rhythm of the Christian year is different than the rhythm of secular Christmas.

Once again, I wish you a Merry Christmas … and a happy new year.

And if you celebrate another holiday, enjoy that too.

And to my Christian friends, I pray that you have had a meaningful Advent. And I hope that you and your church will have a joyous celebration of Christ’s birth.