In recent years the iconic greeting, “Merry Christmas”, has become somewhat politically incorrect, and deemed offensive by those who feel it is religion intruding into a public that is religiously diverse on the one hand and largely secular on the other.
And yet not everyone who celebrates Christmas considers it a religious holiday. A secular version of Christmas is very common, focusing on the love of family and friends. To many Americans who are not Christians, Christmas is a special holiday of fun – home decorations and lights, Christmas trees and presents, turkey and eggnog, parties and get-togethers, mistletoe and Santa Claus. Things like Christmas carols and the Salvation Army collecting donations are just part of the ambiance – nothing to take too seriously.
When someone who isn’t a Christian says, “Merry Christmas”, they aren’t thinking about the Biblical account of the birth of Christ. They aren’t trying to convert anyone. It’s just another way of saying, “Happy Holidays”. They aren’t thinking, “I need to be inclusive by saying ‘Happy Holidays,'” because their secular Christmas is already inclusive.
Whichever greeting a person uses, they are saying, “Have fun!”, “Have a nice day!”, “Enjoy yourself!” It’s a universal feeling shared by all people, regardless of culture or religion. Even though they may celebrate different things, all people love gathering together to enjoy good music, good food, the giving of gifts and sharing the things we value with the people we care for the most.
That’s what “Happy Holidays” means, and that’s what “Merry Christmas” means in the secular world. But for Christians there is something much more important about Christmas than being merry. It is the very thing that is absent from any secular Christmas – it’s the Advent of the Christ.
Advent means a momentous arrival. The birth of the Christ or Messiah (the “anointed one”) is momentous for various reasons. First of all, this baby called the Son of God was God incarnate, meaning in the flesh. The infinite God, Creator of the entire universe condescended to be born into human form to live among us. Implicit in this is that the Son of God is God, the Son; the “child” born unto us in Isaiah 9:6 is called “Everlasting Father”. In the beginning the Word (Christ) was with God and was God, he made everything (John 1:1-3).
Secondly, Advent is momentous because it did not just happen. Centuries before, it had been foretold by the Hebrew prophets. That is why his arrival was so keenly anticipated by the Jews. One such person anticipating Messiah was Simeon in Luke 2:25-32. He was waiting for the “consolation of Israel” (see Isaiah 40:1-5). Upon seeing the baby Jesus, he said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
And here is a third reason why the Advent of Christ is momentous: He not only came to offer salvation to the Jews, but to the Gentiles also. That means to everyone, since a Gentile is anyone who isn’t a Jew. When the angel announced the birth of the Christ-child to shepherds (social outcasts of the day) he said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
The Advent of Christ is about the coming of salvation – salvation from sin for all who receive Christ, that is believe in his name (John 1:12). It’s not about a birthday. It’s about an event that has been saving and changing the lives of billions of individuals for almost 2,000 years.
No one really knows the actual date of the birth of Jesus, and that doesn’t really matter. December 25 is a traditional date, borrowed from a forgotten pagan celebration that predates Christmas. While those pagan folks “back in the day” enjoyed their celebrations very much as we do now, with family & friends, food & fun, they had no idea of what new life in Christ means. They had no idea of the joy available to true Christians in the celebration of the Advent of Christ.
Many of today’s pagans enjoy what they call Christmas. A merry Christmas to them is nothing more than a happy holiday. And there is nothing wrong with that. We need to understand that they are living in darkness, and we are called to bring the light of God into the world so that they can see who Jesus is and understand why he made such a momentous arrival. And don’t forget, he’s coming again in glory!
Have a joyous Advent season.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. John 12:46
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16