Now that Thanksgiving is past we have entered officially into the Christmas season. Most of the stores and homes that will be decorated for the season are already finished and some people already have wrapped presents under their trees. Over the coming weeks we Christians will be certain to distinguish “our” holiday from most of what is celebrated in the culture around us. We will inevitably hear about someone who is forced to remove a Christmas display and become agitated by it (even though quite often the display itself will have little biblical justification). We will be sure to wish a hearty MERRY CHRISTMAS to anyone who dares wish us a happy holiday or seasons greetings. All year long we feel the influence of our faith waning in the culture around us and we sense that at this time of the year there is something at stake, something to be defended.
With that in mind I would like to respond to one particular thing that often provokes irritation among my brothers and sisters this time of year. Many Christians are disturbed when they see Christmas abbreviated as Xmas. The feeling is that both literally and symbolically Christ is X’ed out when this is done. This attitude is understandable considering the fact that so often there is an effort to remove Christ from Christmas on the part of many who prefer to retain the holiday without any sense of its religious significance. We must be careful, however, to not make too many assumptions regarding the motives of those who use the Xmas abbreviation. We do not want to be so sensitive to enemies on all sides that we begin jumping at our own shadows.
The “X” in Xmas did not originate as any secular attempt to blot out Christ from the celebration. The “X” is actually derived from the Greek letter chi which looks exactly like an English letter X and is the first letter in the Greek word cristos (christos) which is translated into English as “Christ”. It is the messianic title of our Lord and literally means The Anointed One. It is similar to other common abbreviations that signify our Lord such as “IHS” which represent a transliteration of the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek (ihsuos) or the chi-rho ☧ which is a combination of the first two letters of cristos (Christos) and like the X in Xmas is a shorthand symbol for “Christ”. It is reasonable to prefer that this shorthand not be used but it is not necessarily an attempt to remove Christ from CHRISTmas.
It is quite true that there is much at stake and much to be defended this time of year (and always) but our passion for the trappings of late December really have little to do with it. The timing of the celebration is the result of the early church’s attempt to redeem a pagan celebration. The evergreens, lights, snowmen, Santa, and the rest have no direct connection to the bible or Christ’s birth either. There is not a biblical precedent for celebrating the Lords birth and the early church knew of no such celebration until the 4th century. In fact, many early Protestants considered the celebration of Christmas to be sinful and idolatrous. Scripture, however, neither mandates nor precludes such celebrations so long as they are observed in due honor to the Lord. We do well to keep in mind what Paul instructed the Romans regarding sacred days:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. … For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.
(Romans 14:5-8 ESV)
There have always been various celebrations that have occurred during this time of year. There are those who in faith set aside a day to recall the birth of our Savior and then there are many others who are either celebrating some other non-Christian holiday, worshiping at the altar of materialism, or simply celebrating their friends and family. It seems that it has always been this way. We have been spoiled because for many centuries during the late December festivities the broader culture has recognized the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ as primary but it was not always so.
As I said, there is much at stake regarding the Christmas message and I pray that we, as Christians, keep in mind the wonder and glory of Christ’s coming to the earth to save us every day of the year. It is only if we (by God’s grace) ensure that the message of Christ is not lost among ourselves that we can hope influence the culture around us. That there would be confusion in the world about what we celebrate is not surprising. I pray, however, that there would be no such confusion in our churches and homes this Christmas season and throughout the year.
May the Lord bless all of you this CHRISTmas season!