Monday, December 22, 2014

I wish you a Merry Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas ...

Merry CHRISTmas!  I offer up that greeting out of a heartfelt love for God who gave us that special day, and certainly out of the same love for those who read this (and even those who don’t … haha).

But … these days it seems some take offense when we say “Merry Christmas.”

When exactly did “Merry Christmas” become an offensive greeting?  When did we all collectively need to be careful to avoid saying “Merry Christmas” so as not to hurt someone’s feelings?  A Gallup / USA Today poll in 2010 found that 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas, including 80% of non-Christians.

So why is it that people seem to go out of their way to say “happy holidays” as if that is the preferred way to express the sentiment properly?   Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that there are multiple holidays during this time, all of which matter deeply to their adherents.  I honor that, sincerely. 

I also recognize that while we celebrate CHRISTmas this time of year in honor of the birth of Jesus, it’s highly unlikely that December 25 was His actual birthday.  Instead, His actual birthday is thought by some to be sometime in late September.  Of course, we can’t know this with certainty, but there are plenty of historical and cultural clues that can be drawn.  Of course, if He was indeed born in late September that could lay the groundwork for Him to have been conceived by the Holy Spirit (incarnated) in late December.  That’s a discussion for another time perhaps.

Back to my point, which emanated from my Old Testament reading (Isaiah 49 – 55, Ezekiel 43 – 48, and Daniel 1) in a particularly familiar passage; it’s a passage that talks about the coming sacrifice of Jesus, the price He would pay, the gift that He would give us through His birthday … which we commonly refer to as CHRISTmas.  In Isaiah 53:4-9a we read …

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!  But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.  All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.  He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word.  He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.  And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.  Unjustly condemned, he was led away.  No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream.  But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.  He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone.

There are a few points to note from this before I tie it in to the principal topic … first, one of the most amazing aspects of this prophetic passage is that it was written about 700 years before Jesus’s birth.  It’s crazy enough to realize that all that was noted in this passage (as with ALL prophesy in the Bible) came to pass exactly as it was written.  But what always amazes me is that it was written a full seven centuries in advance.

It’s also clear from the passage that Jesus took the scourging and mistreatment that we (the collective “we” … humanity) deserve as a consequence of our sinful nature and behaviors.  He has NO such sinfulness, either in nature or deed.  It’s also clear from this passage and elsewhere in scripture that Jesus was NOT killed (though He absolutely did die), but that He gave His life willingly, sacrificially.

Okay, now … let’s pull this together a little.

Even if we set aside all else about the life and ministry and significance of Jesus, and focus only on the fact of His act of propitiation on the cross of Calvary as described in this passage in Isaiah 53, the meaning of CHRISTmas is intensely profound.  His was a life lived wholly for others … first to set an example of how a life dedicated to God the Father should be carried out, and secondly to be lain down for the benefit of a creation that deserved nothing close.  It’s love and sacrifice, which cannot exist apart from one another.

This is the spirit of CHRISTmas.  It’s the spirit with which I extend a heartfelt sentiment when I share a “Merry Christmas” with someone.  The greeting arises from a spirit of love … of realizing the immensity of the gift of Christ we’ve received, and being willing to express it to others in that light.  While I recognize that the offensive aspect of the Christian message is said to be its claims of exclusivity, one need read no further than John 3:16 (and elsewhere) to realize that the Christian message is of all things inclusive.  But it IS conditionally predicated on accepting the gift from the One who possesses and offers it.

I happen to celebrate CHRISTmas and I understand some others (though not many, at least here in the US) do not.   When I express my “Merry Christmas” to someone, I am inherently sharing a bit of myself, perhaps the most important part.  I am saying to someone, “the love I have received from my Savior, I wish for you to have as well.”   I am not saying to someone, “you must celebrate as I do, believe as I do, or do anything as I do.”  Of course, it’s my fervent belief that if you don’t receive Christ as your Savior you have no chance of having eternal life.  So on the one hand, it’s my hope that all would have it.  On the other, I cannot force anyone to choose in such a manner.

Universally, it seems we can all agree that Someone choosing to lay down their life to take the penalty that should be ours is the epitome of grace and love.  Celebrating such a life, such a sacrifice, such a love, is my choice.  I believe it’s a rational choice … the only logical choice in the circumstance.

So, when I wish someone a “Merry Christmas” it is not coming from a spirit desiring to hurt them any more than wishing them a “good morning” or “good evening” is meant to be hurtful.  The main difference is that I’m inherently wishing them an infinite number of good mornings and good evenings.  I’m expressing to them a wish that they would know the Hope of the One who can turn bad mornings or bad evenings into good ones.  Forever.

When I wish someone a “Merry Christmas,” I’m not denigrating their holiday or beliefs, I’m sharing with them the love, joy, peace, and sacrifice of mine.

Is that so offensive, really?

I wish you a Merry CHRISTmas!


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