The Meaning of “Merry Christmas”

December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve


The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church





Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Merry Christmas! 


Christmas is an interesting time. It can be so exhilarating. Sometimes it feels as though we flying along, riding in the Christmas Express sleigh ride. And sometimes, it feels as though we are IN the snow, being run over by the Christmas Express. Doesn't it?


But this is the night of nights. This service of worship is the Christ Mass - the celebration from which Christmas gets its name. You are here.  And this is the moment, now. Merry Christmas to you.


I invite you to sit back and relax. Let these moments be yours. Enjoy these comfortable chairs and candlelit sanctuary.  Relax, and enjoy God's love for you. And should you relax so much during this sermon that you fall asleep, that will be okay too. At least I will know that I brought you to a state of deep peace. Deep, deep peace, such as the world cannot give. :-)


When I was a boy, many years ago, I used to wonder: "What does it mean when people wish each other a Merry Christmas?  When does the wish come true?  Does it mean that I hope the 25th of December is an especially happy single day for you? 


I don't know about you, but the 25th is usually a pretty bleary eyed day for me, with moments of joy as well, to be sure. But the words "Merry Christmas" are wonderful, and I'd like us to take a few moments to explore them together. 


First of all, they are a wonderful little gift, aren't they?  The phrase is like a wonderful little box of two candies, one for each word.  Or perhaps two gems, or two sparkling ornaments for your tree.  They are a heartfelt gift. They are a gift we give to our dearest loved ones on Christmas morning. They are a gift we give to relatives we wish were easier to love.  But it's Christmas, so we give them the gift anyway.


These words are a gift we give to good friends, and aquaintences, and and folks whose names we should know, but we can't quite remember.  Still, it's a gift. "Merry Christmas". Merry Christmas is a phrase we share with store cashiers and gas station attendants and complete strangers who just seem to need some good cheer. And still, it's a gift.


Actually, it is a double gift. "Merry" is a word we hardly ever use at any other time or in any other phrase. Yet, we know what it means. It means wonderful, childlike, unbounded joy.  Joy with a touch of the old days. Pure, sparkling joy.


And "Christmas" - unmistakably something that has to do with Christ.  I saw a pin in a store that said, "It's Okay to Wish Me a Merry Christmas"  I guess that could put some hesitant well wishers at ease. Happiness plus Christ equals "Merry Christmas". 


I wonder who was first to wish a "Merry Christmas?" Well clearly, it was the shepherds.  Listen to what it says in the second chapter of the gospel according to St. Luke, verses 15 through 20.


And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.


When they saw Jesus, they rejoiced greatly, and they went and spread the good news.  That's what they did.  After they saw Jesus, they went and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.


And so should we, this year, and every year. Seeing Jesus, knowing Jesus, God's messenger of love to all human kind, fills us with great joy.  It makes us rejoice and be merry.   There's no better word for it. Merry like dancing.  Merry like singing.  Merry like... Christmas.


So, when you wish each other this great phrase, let it be a gift from a heart that has seen Jesus.  Let it be filled with sparkling joy.


Secondly, when I wish you a Merry Christmas, I wish you joy more than just for one day.  I wish you a whole bouquet of Christmas moments.  I wish for you deep joy when you:


hear a child singing,

            get that surprising Christmas card from someone thought you would not hear from,

            hear something about the Christmas story you never realized before,

            find yourself laughing about some funny story around the table with family and friends,

see pattern of branches or the formation of ice on trees,

see the sparkling lights on a house as you drive by.


You get the idea.  You'll recognize Christmas moments when you see them.  Christmas moments are like islands of joy in the ocean of holiday busy-ness. My wish for you is that you will savor them and enjoy them and fold them to your heart when you do see them.  They are gifts of God.  They are like visions of the smiling face of the infant Jesus.


And so, my friend, this year and every year, may you wish those around you a Merry Christmas.  May it be a gift of joy from a heart that has seen Jesus. And may you have many wonderful and amazing Christmas moments.   That's my wish for you this Christmas.


God loves you, and I do, too. Merry Christmas.  Amen.  


© 2008 Anthony J. Godlefski