Certain dimensions of 2020 haven’t felt all that merry, have they? It’s left some folks wondering if “Merry Christmas” fits at all this year. I would submit to you, humbly but with conviction, that “Merry” fits now more than ever!
In the English-speaking world, the “Merry Christmas” greeting appears to date back to at least 1534, when it was written in London in a letter sent from Bishop John Fisher of Cambridge University to Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell – the English lawyer and statesman. In that same era, the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” arrived on the scene and spread rather widely. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” was first published in 1760. In 1843, the first commercially-sold Christmas card was worded: “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” And, in that same year, Charles Dickens further popularized “Merry Christmas” by using it 21 times in his novella, A Christmas Carol.
In fact, A Christmas Carol changed the culture in England – even beyond the precise wording of the Christmas greeting. The entire country experienced a noticeable uptick in charitable contributions right after it was published. But, in the 1920s, “merry” almost lost its holiday status in England and Australia. Many people started equating the term with overindulgence and wanted to distance themselves from those kinds of celebrations. That’s why, to this day, you often hear “Happy Christmas” in England and Australia. When it comes to Christmas here at home, though, “Merry” is still the star of the show. And I would make the case that to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Christmas” – in terms of intrinsic meaning – would be virtually one and the same. To try to split hairs between cheer and contentment, if you ask me, would be barking up the wrong Christmas tree.
So, back to our 2020 nuttiness and strife, I think we find ourselves in a situation similar to that of Bob Cratchit’s wife (Emily in some adaptations): because of what we know of grace, can we lift a toast to Scrooge? Will we let the hardships of this year win the day? Will we allow our obvious discontentment – which, unfortunately, coronavirus has managed to expose – get the best of us? Those are questions worth asking ourselves and answering candidly. A little honest self-reflection might benefit all of us as we bid adieu to this trying year.
Because here’s the reality: nothing that makes Christmas “Christmas” has changed. The Savior has come! He has lived and died, and risen again, for us! In Christ, God has given us every good thing that we will ever need! Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we need to be reminded of the things that really matter. It’s the fruit of Christ’s Spirit that we need – far more than we need another $600. (Please forgive me. I couldn’t resist.)
The Light of the world has come into our midst, and no virus can obscure that. The glory of the gospel has invaded our souls, and no crisis can reverse that. The Son of God has ascended to the throne of our hearts, and no pandemic can threaten that. You see, friends, what makes Christmas Christmas can’t be stopped. So you and I have about a billion incredible reasons to be merry! 2020, you’ll have to try again.
My family and I are grateful to God to be living among you in Paducah, and worshipping the Lord here with you. As I approach eight years of serving as your senior pastor, I’m sure that you’ve heard a few complaints about me. Truth is: I’m far, far worse than all of those comments put together. But Jesus is awesome. And, even in a pandemic year, He remains alive and well. And He’s good. And He’s full of grace, for us.
So, God rest you merry. Merry Christmas!