“Forgive Me for Saying ‘Merry Christmas’”
“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? This has been a bit of an issue for several years, but seems to be in the news a LOT more this time around, along with ‘holiday tree’ versus ‘Christmas tree.’
I truly appreciate the sentiment of not wanting to make others feel left out if they don’t celebrate my holy day. Scripture encourages us to, as much as it is up to us, live in peace with all. And it is dicey to use as a counterargument Jesus’ words, “If you are ashamed of me before men, I will be ashamed of you before my Father.” There are two reasons for it being dicey.
1) Are you saying ‘Merry Christmas’ as a blessing or a social convention? If you mean it as a blessing in the truest sense of the word, then you don’t need to be reading this post. You have the issue settled in your own heart. If it is a social convention, then perhaps the question to ask is why aren’t you taking advantage of an opportunity to bless people? Your answer will reveal a lot.
2) Much of modern Christian tradition, including much about the ‘traditional’ Christmas celebration has some origins in pagan ritual, and for some Christians, this is enough to convince them to wash their hands of any aspect of the season. Thus, their answer is that they hold their Saviour in such high esteem, they will not cheapen His name in a basically pagan holiday. Thus, it is not out of shame that they do not wish someone ‘Merry Christmas,’ but quite the opposite.
Where does that leave us? Paul offers good insight in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” The principle here and elsewhere in his writings is that we have the Holy Spirit living inside us and we are to let Him convict or excuse us in regard of our worship and bringing glory to Him.
What is the purpose of pretty much everything? To glorify God. Therefore if your goal and heart is to glorify Him, and His Word and His Spirit give you leave, then do it with joy and conviction. If any of these warn you away, then obey. When you meet a brother or sister who disagrees with you, neither party should judge the other; rather have the freedom to discuss or graciously persuade, remembering the same Spirit indwells each and live in peace.
So, what about folks who don’t believe and/or don’t celebrate Christmas? My conviction is that if they are people of peace, they will receive my blessing and be warmed by it, and in some small way, is a light of witness to them. If they are not people of peace and take offense, then it serves as a witness against them and the blessing will return to me. Again, Paul offers a higher perspective in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?’But we have the mind of Christ.” If they choose to be offended by a blessing sincerely given, it is no skin off of our back. They have chosen foolishness and, at worst, reveal themselves to be children of their Father below. Regardless, I have more important things about which to worry than someone being offended by well-wishes from the heart of my faith.
There may be some who would return with the accusation that I’ve never been ‘oppressed’ by a blessing from another from a different faith. That is partially true. I have never been oppressed by a blessing, but I have had blessings bestowed on me by people of other faiths, twice. In each case, I was deeply humbled, grateful and filled with joy. Once, I was visiting with a friend who owned a Jamaican restaurant across the street from where I once lived. A foreign black family came in dressed in the richest of robes like African royalty and made me feel like I was in the presence of one of the three kings and his family. We visited and I can’t for the life of me remember about what, but as I left the store, the father raised his right hand in benediction and blessed me, though not in the name of Christ. I will treasure that moment for my lifetime. Similarly, I once found myself in a conversation on a campus with a couple of Jehovah’s Witness, and we chatted for something like 90 minutes about our different perspectives. As we parted, the older JW also blessed me because of his respect for me and the gracious honesty of our discussion.
Therefore, I am fully convinced in my spirit that to be true to my Saviour, it is fully appropriate to wish others ‘Merry Christmas’ without shame, uncertainty or apology.