Merry Christmas! This greeting may seem a bit early, but when you think about it, the salutation has a rather limited shelf life.
It feels kind of inappropriate to say it when Christmas displays begin to fill store aisles just before Halloween items are being closed out. Black Friday, which has moved to Thursday, is sort of the official kickoff to the Christmas shopping season, but there is not much merry about that day.
According to Dictionary.com, “merry” is defined as “full of cheerfulness or gaiety; joyous in disposition or spirit.” It occurred to me that we do not use the adjective “merry” to describe any other special days or events, and rarely use it to describe people; often “pleasant” is the highest praise used.
This may raise the question why “merry” is most often used to describe the Christmas celebration. From my biased perspective, it is directly connected to the event itself: The birth of Christ. In the Bible, it is exciting how the Greek physician Luke captured the spirit of the moment when he wrote in Chapter two beginning in verse 10:
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights. Peace to all men and women on earth who please Him.” (From “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language”)
Christmas is the great, joyful and universal event that marks the birth of the sacrifice, who would forever alter human beings’ estrangement from its creator, and who John the Baptist called the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
Perhaps the reason why Christmas is described as “merry” is that it invites us again to consider a better hope. As the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us in the Bible: “(for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” Hebrews 7:19
All the virtues of the season bring life and meaning to our world, even when the greeting of Merry Christmas ceases to be used in everyday conversation.
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.