What exactly does “Merry Christmas” mean? To many, it is a heart-felt gift of well wishes in honor of Jesus’ birth. To some, it is a trite statement appropriate for the season. And to still others, it is an offensive grenade hurled at the camp of political correctness.
According to my 1939 Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, merry means “pleasant, delightful and marked by gaiety or festivity.” Christmas means “an annual church festival, kept on December 25 in memory of the birth of Christ."
So, “I wish you a pleasant and delightful time of festivity in keeping with the annual celebration on December 25 to remember the birth of Christ!” In reality, “Merry Christmas” is much easier to say. But, let’s take a deeper look at some other realities revolving around our perceptions of this traditional holiday sentiment.
Reality Check #1 – Economic Matters
In the world of the affluent, a Merry Christmas is often characterized by lavish gift giving and celebration. For average folks, that simple phrase can still represent a festive holiday, but based on a more practical approach. And, then there are those who struggle under the pressure of having little extra or even nothing to mark the season.
Reality Check #2 – Matters of the Heart
Christmas is a joyful time of the year, but for many it is a holiday they wish would go away. For the lonely, the “family and friends” part of the equation is sometimes shaky at best or even nonexistent. They may have few friends. And, when it comes to family, maybe dysfunction, or distance is the backdrop of their reality. Christmas may be the time of year that flushes out painful memories instead of igniting fond reflections. Maybe it’s a reality scarred with the lingering pain of losing of a loved one. Certain circumstances make it hard for some people to feel merry.
Reality Check #3 – Charity Matters
Giving and receiving is the heart of the Christmas season. For those who are affluent, a merry heart often beats with excitement as the result of giving. However, affluence doesn’t necessarily have to mean material wealth. Generous giving can come from sharing economic blessings, but it can also flow from giving out of abundant time, or a kind act from a loving heart.
Just within the last month I have encountered several lonely people, a young man sleeping in his car, and a teenager with the pressure of knowing that his family was a breath away from having their electricity cut off. No matter who we are, we have something to give. Whether it involves money, an encouraging word, or time well spent, there are plenty of opportunities to spread the wealth.
On the flip side of giving, there is receiving. Some people are ashamed when much needed help comes knocking on their front door. But, when need is genuine, no shame is necessary. In today’s bad economic environment, there are a lot of struggling people. Although God loves a cheerful giver, He also loves a grateful and gracious receiver. How could He not?
All the world needs God’s charity when it comes to our sinful condition. Every sinner who hangs his or her head in shame is blessed to be able to look to heaven. Not only that, but we can lift our hands and allow God to pull us into the fold of His righteousness. THAT is a Merry Christmas: rejoicing in the birth of the Child who allows us to seek forgiveness from a holy God. It is festive and delightful! And it should have special recognition in December. However, it is very appropriate to remember it every day of the year.
The Reality of Merry Christmas
Practical Christianity understands that a Merry Christmas is not based on the reality of our wealth (whatever form it takes); it is based on a heart that beats for Jesus. It’s an attitude that recognizes where we can share our wealth of money, time, or love with others. It is a sincerity that catapults “Merry Christmas” from a trite statement appropriate for the season (or a grenade hurled at political correctness), to a heart-felt gift of goodwill in honor of Jesus.
Whether you are the giver or the receiver, give God the the glory for abundance, and praise Him for His provision. Merry Christmas!