- Eldon Peterson
Merry Christmas in July?
Merry Christmas! Do you ever get tired of hearing those words? Possibly you have never thought about it, but what would you think if I greeted you with a Merry Christmas in July? You are likely to think it odd, but I wonder if we should limit our greeting to December. Merry Christmas can be more than holiday greeting; when we see what is behind it can be a statement of faith.
Of course, Merry Christmas is naturally tied to the Christmas holiday. The greeting calls for us to remember the joy, hope and salvation that the Christ child brought to the world. Isaiah foretold of his birth in 700 BC when he declared, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”. (Isaiah 9:6)
While we do not know the actual date of Christ’s birth, the first recorded celebration of Christmas was on December 25, 336 AD. It is widely accepted that Christmas celebrations were happening before this time. Timothy Larsen, editor of The Oxford Handbook of Christmas, suggests, “Given that Scripture doesn’t give us a date for Christ’s birth, the church likely chose December 25 for the celebration because it was an easy way for ordinary people to know when Christmastime was each year and because it was a fitting time for symbolic reasons.” The symbolism that he is referring to is the winter solstice where we move from “the days of maximum darkness end and the light becomes stronger and stronger: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9).”
Understanding the origins of Christmas helps us understanding the meaning of Merry Christmas. While today it is often uttered as a warm greeting, it’s meaning and purpose ask us to consider the reason that Jesus was born that Christmas morning. The expression to “Be or make merry” translates to make joy or be joyful. It is generally used to express good cheer and to wish for a state of contentment. In the purest sense then, when we say “Merry Christmas”, it expresses a desire for others to know and consider the joy the Christ child brings.
We should not be any more offended by someone wishing us a “Merry Christmas” than we would by a Happy Thanksgiving or Happy Fourth of July. The greeting is an invitation not a command. Merry Christmas is an invitation for us to consider the joy Christ brings just as “Happy New Year” is for us to consider our hopes for the coming year. I can declare “bah humbug” at the greeting just as Scrooge does in Charles Dickens’ famous story A Christmas Carol, but can’t we also simply accept the declaration in the invitational sense in which it is intended?
In wishing you a Merry Christmas I am declaring to you the hope that Christ brings to all mankind. Hearing this may allow you to share with me your wonder in the angel’s message to the shepherds, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!” (Luke 2:11–14)
My hope is that this Christmas you will know and understand the hope that the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, brings to us in the Christ child we remember at Christmas. However, if we are to understand the meaning of the manger, we must look beyond the manger to the salvation purchased for us on Good Friday and the hope assured in Christ’s resurrection.
Therefore, there is no reason to limit our greeting of Merry Christmas to the Christmas season; it is appropriate every day. So, the next time you see me, you should feel free to greet me with the hope of Christmas by boldly declaring Merry Christmas. Don’t worry if it is July; the words are equally true any time of year.
Merry Christmas to you and your family. My pray is for you to know the joy that the child brings to everyone this Christmas season.