I was thinking this week about this Christmas greeting.
I don’t always use it.
If I know the person in question is not a Christian I usually use, “Happy holidays”.
I do believe in being sensitive to others traditions around this time of year.
But I was thinking about what I mean when I do use this greeting.
What am I really trying to say to the person whom I am addressing?
We first have to admit that this is not only a Christian greeting.
It is a cultural greeting too.
There is no mention of it in the Bible.
It doesn’t come into popular use until 1894 when Charles Dickens used it in his popular story “A Christmas Carol”.
So in terms of history it is relatively new.
But still is there something to this that when we as Christians say “Merry Christmas” we mean something more than merely we hope you have a good season?
There is a supposed battle going on where we are lamenting that this phrase is not used more often.
We want the clerk at Target to say it to us.
But I would say that before we casually go around saying Merry Christmas it is good for us to think about what we are really trying to offer the world.
Do we really want this to be a popular cultural phrase, or do we want it to have the weight of our Christian faith.
Do we really want the Target person to wish us a Merry Christmas, because they might not fully get or understand the weight of that greeting?
The meaning behind wishing someone a Merry Christmas goes to the heart of what we are all expecting to happen on Christmas.
We are expecting on Christmas to receive joy only God can give.
It is not the joy that can be found in a store.
It is not the kind of joy that can be found at our family celebration.
It is not the kind of joy that we often think of when we think of Christmas.
We have done a disservice to this phrase by suggesting that it has to be said by everyone.
Instead it should be used very carefully, because by using it we mean something rather radical.
We mean that we hope that people experience joy that goes deeper than what we find wrapped in box.
We find joy beyond what the world has to give.
I can tell you this.
I always am happy on Christmas.
I love giving presents, I love getting presents.
But every present I have ever gotten, no matter how good it is never has brought me true joy.
And here is why because they all go away after a while.
Everything that is given is temporary.
Yes, we are happy with it for a while, but then it gets old.
I was thinking about all the video games that I have been given over the years.
I remember the Christmas our family got ColecoVision.
It was awesome.
We got donkey Kong.
And I loved playing it.
But after a while it became old, and I wanted the next thing.
I remember when we got Nintendo.
My younger sister wanted this so bad.
She would leave hints for my parents.
One day when my dad was taking a nap, she left on him the advertisement from the flyer announcing a sale on Nintendo.
We got it that Christmas.
It was awesome.
We played, and played.
Until it got old, and then it sat there and eventually thrown out.
When Vicki and I were dating I really wanted Nintendo 64.
She got it for me!
I knew right then I had to marry her.
Anyway, my roommate and I played that forever.
Then it got old.
My point is that with things it is never enough.
We think that having this thing will make us happy, and it does for a time, but ultimately we tire of it and then we want the newer better version.
When we wish someone a Merry Christmas we are not talking about that kind of happiness.
It is not merely about being satisfied for short time.
Or even just one day.
You see we chase Christmas joy in things, presents, family, friends, parties, caroling.
And real Christmas joy comes from something totally different.
It comes from knowing God through Jesus Christ.
It comes in the one present that never becomes old, and we want to exchange it for the next model.
As the psalmist once said, "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11)
Real Christmas joy comes from knowing God and being in God’s presence.
Perhaps our reading from the Gospel of John can help us with this.
John the Baptist in the Gospel of John is different than the John the Baptist of the other three Gospels.
In John’s Gospel John the Baptist is the first witness to Jesus Christ as the messiah.
John is the one who points to Jesus and says, “This is the one you are waiting for.”
And perhaps that is what we need.
We need John the Baptist to come and point us again to Jesus, and remind us that this is the one who takes away the sins of the world.
This is the one who will bring you true joy.
When we say, “Merry Christmas” we are not merely offering a familiar cultural greeting for this season, but we are pointing to the Christ and saying this is truly what gives us joy.
Think about the gift that Jesus gives.
It is totally free.
A free gift with no strings attached.
It comes whether we are naughty or nice.
It comes even if we are not happy and in the right spirit.
That is radical.
It is radical to suggest that something is free in a world where everything costs something, and that we get things even when we don’t deserve it.
Compare that to the other popular attributes of Christmas.
To get a new toy one has to be good.
To get a present for someone else we have to spend money.
To get invited to a party one has to know the right people.
Christ invites us without any conditions, because this is not about us.
It is not about what we have done, but about God.
John the Baptists kept on insisting that even though he was popular this was not about him, but about the one he pointed to.
We all are chasing that Christmas joy and the message of God is that joy is coming to us.
True joy that comes from knowing our sins are forgiven, true joy that comes from being able to be freed from the pressure of being perfect, and true joy that comes with knowing God.
It is the joy that John the Baptist point to, the one the Isaiah prophesied about when he told the people of Israel, “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”
These promises of God made Isaiah rejoice in the lord, it made his whole being exult in God.
At Christmas we celebrate that God has made those promises come true in Jesus Christ.
We celebrate in joy because God has given us good news through the Lamb of God that takes away our sins.
True joy is coming this Christmas.
John the Baptist points to it.
When we say Merry Christmas let us also point to that true joy that God offers the world.