And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (ESV)
I’ve decided to use both “Xmas” and “Christmas” this year but not interchangeably. “Xmas” will refer to the “holidays” – that most wonderful time of the year, the season of tinsel, trees, lights, sleigh bells, presents, eggnog, Grandma’s snickerdoodles, and all the rest of the Fa-la-la-la-la. I will reserve “Christmas” for the holy days surrounding the Nativity of Our Lord, that most holy night when Christ was born. While I am decking my halls for the Xmas holidays in December, I will also be preparing for the holy days of Christmas during this season of Advent. Let me explain.
I like both the holidays and the holy days, Xmas and Christmas. I occasionally hear people say, “Xmas takes the Christ out of Christmas” like some generic red Starbuck’s holiday cup, but that’s true only if you don’t know Greek. The “X” in Xmas is the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Xristos, which means Christ. Xmas doesn’t take Christ out of Christmas; it just abbreviates Him to one letter known only to the insiders. And that makes sense. The Xmas holidays kind of hide Christ beneath the turkey and the mistletoe. But then, Christ tends to hide Himself anyway – a manger, a carpenter, the Word and sacraments. Hiddenness is His cup of tea as the Mystery hidden from the ages but revealed in these last days.
There’s nothing wrong with the Xmas holidays. And a lot right. We tend to be more decent to one another – a bit kinder, gentler, and more charitable. These days, we can use all the kindness and charity we can muster. We give gifts to others. We sing songs together. We eat together with family and friends. We send notes and cards to people we haven’t heard from in a long time. We decorate our homes with lights and candles in the bleak midwinter. And let’s not forget jolly, old St. Nick! Who doesn’t love Santa Claus, except maybe that crying two year old posing for pictures in the mall?
I love the food of the Xmas holidays. Atkins, Paleo and South Beach are banished for December. Bring on the cavalcade of carbs! Cookies, cakes, and pies along with Xmas candies and plenty of eggnog to wash it all down. We’ll work it off with renewed resolve in the new year. Here in perpetually sunny southern California, I grill a Tri-tip, Santa Maria style, on December 25 just to rub it in with the northern Midwest relatives. No wonder people celebrate the Xmas holidays even if they don’t believe the Christ of the holy days! It’s great fun!
Yet hidden in, with, and under that Xmas goose and Santa Claus is a great and mighty wonder. The Mystery of all mysteries, revealed to the baptized believing. “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together took on our human flesh and pitched His tent in our camp. The eternal Son, the second Person of the undivided Holy Trinity, took up residence in the Virgin’s womb, the manger crib, the carpenter’s shop, the cross, and the tomb. He took up our humanity, literally from the womb to the tomb, to bring us back to God. The Infinite took up residence in the finite, the fullness of Deity dwells bodily in a Man, the Word became Flesh, God and Man are reconciled! O Magnum Mysterium! This is the hidden and eternal gift of Christmas.
Holidays without holy days are a bit like empty packages. Lots of pretty ribbons and wrapping paper but nothing of lasting value on the inside. The spirit of the Xmas holidays becomes the post-New Year hangover. The tree goes to the curb or back into the attic, the decorations are packed away for another year, and life returns to its day to day treadmill grind. That’s how it is with holidays. They come and go. They’re fun for the moment, but like a long weekend, they come to their end. They are, after all, holidays. Parentheses of fun in the ordinary way of life.
But the holy days of Christmas are enduring as their gifts are eternal. The gifts continue to flow from our Lord’s Nativity to His Name and Circumcision, (January 1) and then on to Epiphany, “the Gentiles’ Christmas” (January 6) and His Presentation in the temple (February 2). In between there is death and martyrdom – St. Stephen’s Day (December 26), St. John’s Day (December 27), and the Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28). Though they commemorate sad and even tragic events, these days too are holy because “the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus took the sting of Sin, died our Death, conquered the Grave, and fulfilled the Law for us and for our salvation.
Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. Beneath the fleeting fun of Xmas is the singular eternal joy of Christmas. Xristos. The “X” in Xmas. The Baby of Bethlehem and the Man of Sorrows. The Savior and Redeemer of the world. The fullest revelation of God to Man. True God and true Man. Immanuel. God with us to save us.
Christ by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord.
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel!
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Merry Xmas and blessed Christmas!
Bill Cwirla will serve as one of our speakers during Family Week 9, 2017 at Camp Arcadia.