Happy Xmas

Well another Christmas season come and gone. And with it the echoes of controversy and silliness that otherwise informed people get wrapped up with.

First is the “Xmas” controversy. Some bad preaching fueled by ignorance and a “sky is falling” mood has contributed to this one. “Xmas” is an abbreviation for “Christmas.” This is because the English “X” most closely resembles the Greek letter ‘chi.’ Chi, for millennia, has been a God-honoring abbreviation for “Christ.” In the same way, Bible students can use “Xn” for “Christian,” “Xnty” for “Christianity,” or even “Xndm” for “Christendom.” As such, English believers have used their own letter, “X” for “Christ” for hundreds of years.
Only recently, with the increasing ignorance of all things older than one’s lifetime, have silly preachers claimed that “Xmas” is an attempt to ‘take the Christ from Christmas.” Leveraging on the use of the letter ‘x’ to signify the unknown in high-school math and the use of ‘x’ in popular culture to signify mystery, as well as a desire to find all kinds of reasons why the world is going to Hell in a Handbasket, have conspired to create the completely unwarranted objection to using Xmas for Christmas. “Xmas” as an abbreviation for “Christmas” dates from at least the 1500’s – far before any attempt by postmodernists, New Atheists, or even the concept of the secular state.
What is odd is that people object to the use of the English letter, ‘x’ for “Christ,” but don’t bat an eye at the rest of the word, “mas.” “Christ-mas” is derived from the phrase, “Christ’s Mass.” The word first hit the scene in about 1038. And for those people very much in the Protestant camp, they get their drawers in a knot about abbreviating “X” for Christ but are happy to encourage the concept of the Roman Mass. Go figure.
What causes me befuddlement is that otherwise well-educated Christians are perfectly willing to embrace willful ignorance because one day a bad preacher compellingly told them a historical falsehood.

On to the next controversy – one that is more “popular.” This is the “Merry Christmas” verses “Happy Holidays” greeting controversy. This is along the lines of the “He’s the Reason for the Season” catch-phrase. In fact, the birth of Jesus is not completely the reason for the season. I’ve mentioned this before (http://ericmesselt.blogspot.com/2008/12/reason-for-season.html), but the fact is that there were pagan Winter Party seasons long before our Lord was born.
At the end of my thinking on this, I am resigned to recognize that our society confounds the pagan and Christian meaning of “Christmas.” Frankly, I appreciate the honesty of secular and pagan people to stop calling what they do during this time of the year, “Christmas.” I don’t like that the excesses and rowdy revelry are associated with Jesus. They still don’t get the idea of “holiday,” of course ("holiday" means "holy day"). But if this is merely a “Happy Holiday” for them, fine. It still – very much – is about Christ to me.

Let me take that “Happy Holidays v. Merry Christmas” controversy a step further. I believe that it was the redeeming and lifting effect of the gospel on the pagan-infested roots of Western Civilization that changed the course of the Winter Party season into the Christmas season. But not completely – there are still plenty of pagan influences. It is expected, within ‘Christian’ nations to not only celebrate the birth of Jesus, but also to have a rowdy ‘good time.’ That is, to be “merry.”
Let me pull back a bit. In the U.S., it is customary to wish each other a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” My time in the U.K. taught me another custom. There, people say it ‘backwards;’ they wish each other a “Happy Christmas and Merry New Year.” Now why the switch as the sentiment crossed The Pond is unknown to me, but I have pondered on the difference of meaning between the words “merry” and “happy.” To most, the words are exactly the same and so it’s a distinction without a difference. But the words are different and carry different meanings. Currently, “merry” means “full of or showing lively cheerfulness or enjoyment;” while “happy” means “feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, or joy.” When *I* think of the two words in connection with Christmas, I associate “merry” with the party stuff, while I associate “happy” with the “Happy Birthday, Jesus” stuff.
So I’m adopting the British practice of wishing people a “Happy Christmas.” Now, here’s what I’m NOT going to do. I’m NOT going to castigate, insult, or take exaggerated offense if other Christians continue to use the phrase “Merry Christmas.” Additionally, I’m not going to think less of them privately. I am merely going to make the shift myself and see what happens.
So “Happy Christmas” to my Jesus-following friends! “Merry Party-time” to my pagan friends (hoping they’ll come to their senses about Jesus), and may this next year be a time of peace, prosperity, and health because of the grace of God in our lives.


Sacrifice And Service (2Cor 4:7ff)

I was reading this passage this morning and reflected on Paul’s sacrificial commitment to the ministry of the Good News about Jesus. Paul is intense, extreme, and hard-core in his devotion to Christ and the do-whatever-it-takes posture of spreading the news and encouraging people to be close to God because of Jesus.

Now Paul’s sacrifice for the work of Christ was great – even life-threatening. I’ve lived most of my life in suburbia and minister now in middle-class American suburbia. My ministry has hardly ever been even close to life-threatening. There are those who will be quick to tell me that I’m not *really* living for Christ, much less doing ministry – my life is too easy, convenient, and safe. And they are right – my life is relatively easy, convenient, and safe. One reason that is true is because I have family to care for: a wonderful wife and three great children. Which is a fact consistent with 1Cor. 7:32-35 – that my family responsibilities ‘limit’ my ability to minister.

But I have recently read about ‘limits’ and would gently correct my hard-core accusers: God has made me, shaped me, and equipped me to do some things well and other things not very well at all. I am good with things and tools, bad at athletics; good with words, only fair with numbers; good at changing light bulbs without a ladder, bad a crawling into tight spaces. We all have limits, as well as gifts; experiences as well as naivete';  fumbling as well as competence; calling as well as confusion. What seems to be part of the Christian life is learning to live as God made us and live toward what God wants us to become. My ‘limits,’ I’m learning, are actually gifts that God has given me and I am learning to welcome them and cherish them as helping me to understand the uniqueness that God has formed into me.

So I see my limits as informing my calling – yes, here to suburbia. “Calling,” as I understand it, is the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit on the direction I should take my life – not somebody’s else’s life: mine. And when God tells me to do something, everything I’ve learned and experienced tells me that I should really get about what he tells me to do. The alternative is always worse.

Additionally, I will suggest that “burning out for Jesus!” is not Paul’s answer, either. Philippians 1:21-25 show that Paul actually seems to have considered that option. In my hard-core brothers’ perspective: “live life hard for Jesus, shine bright, flame out, and go to heaven!” Paul seems to have two options before him: flame out and go to heaven, or stay here and slog along being helpful to Christians still here. He seems to indicate that the *more sacrificial option* was to stay here; perhaps even that flaming-out would have been slightly narcissistic and self-serving as an ‘easy way out.’

Nobody is suggesting that martyrdom is easy – but the larger issue is: what does God want? This shows up with Paul again as he state elsewhere that true loving sacrifice was in service, not mere death (Romans 12:1, 1Cor. 13:3).

So as I read this passage in 2Corinthians 4, I am on one hand challenged to stretch, to press into the hard things, and to travel into the bad places – if that’s where God calls me. But just because God called Paul to rather extreme deprivations does not mean I have to follow him there. I follow Paul as he follows Christ (1Cor 11:1) in doing what I have been called to do.