What “Merry Christmas” Actually Means

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,* when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. –LK 3:1-2”

“All the armies that have ever marched/ All the navies that have ever sailed/ All the parliaments that have ever sat/ All the kings that ever reigned/ put together/ Have not affected the life of mankind on earth/ As powerfully as that one solitary life” – One Solitary Life by Dr. James Allan

Our pastor this morning started his homily by asking, why these arcane details of who was tetrarch of which region are included in the Bible, and why Pontius Pilate is the only character from the bible, other than Jesus and Mary, to be included in our Creed, which is, after all, the summary of all that we believe. It wasn’t, he said, just so we could be nostalgic for that time when Philip was tetrarch of Ituraea. It is because these were actual historical figures, and they are included in the Bible, and Pilate in the Creed, to show that Jesus was real. The biblical accounts of Jesus actually happened.

That means that Christmas celebrates an actual historical event, the birth of the man who, because he was the son of God, affected the life of mankind on this earth more than any other. It is also a federal holiday to mark the occasion.

I can never understand why people will attend a party this time of year where the decorations consist entirely of things like candy canes, a lighted pine tree, and Santa Claus paraphernalia and yet they still insist on calling it a “holiday party.” It’s a Christmas party, people.

Yes, there are people who are not Christian and who either do not celebrate Christmas or who do not recognize the religious significance of the holiday. But since the angel announced “peace on earth, good will to men,” there is, by definition, no more inclusive holiday than Christmas.

If I know of a friend or colleague celebrating Chanukah (or another holiday) this time of year, I wish him or her a happy Chanukah. But when I wish someone a Merry Christmas, I hope that they would receive it in the spirit in which I offer it. I am wishing them to share in the joy that I feel in celebrating the birth of Christ. Whether they believe that the event happened or not, I hope that they will understand what I’m actually wishing for them.

And with that in mind, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.


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