What About Xmas?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

(The other day, on Facebook, there was a post where someone was bemoaning the fact that Christmas is increasingly being pushed out of the public square.  As evidence, another person mentioned the use of the word "Xmas".  Somebody responded with this comment: "Xmas is Christmas.  X is Christ in Greek!"  This is my response.)

To say "X is Christ in Greek", is just not correct — grammatically or historically.

Indeed, an English "x" (pronounced eks) looks similar to a Greek "χ" (pronounced chi).

But this would be equivalent to saying, "An apostrophe is Jesus in Hebrew", because an English "’" (apostrophe, not pronounced) looks similar to a Hebrew "י" (pronounced yodh).

Just because the first letter of Christ in Greek looks like an English "X" does not mean that "X is Christ in Greek."  Just because the first letter of Jesus in Hebrew looks like an English apostrophe, does not mean that "An apostrophe is Jesus in Hebrew."

It is true that in the hand copying of the Greek New Testament, the names for familiar people were on occasion shortened, but never to just one letter.  The name of "Christ" would have been shortened to two letters: the first and the last, with a single line over the two letters.

So, depending on its grammatical position in a sentence, it would have been; "χυ" (chi, upsilon), "χς" (chi, sigma), or "χω" (chi, omega), with a single line over the two letters.

There is one exception to this, but it is not a biblical usage.  As many people are aware, early Christians sometimes identified themselves with the symbol of a fish.  It was intended to be a secret identifier, that only Christians were aware of.  This was done so as to not endanger their lives in a culture that was decidedly anti-Christian.

The Greek word for fish is made up of five letters.  These five letters had the following meaning to the early Christians, since each of the letters was the first letter of the following words:

Ι (iota) - Jesus - ιησους (eeaysous)

Χ (chi) - Christ - χριστος (christos)

Θ (theta) - God - θεος (theos)

Υ (upsilon) - Son - υιος (wheeos)

Σ (sigma) - Savior - σωτηρος (sohtayros)

To replace the name of Christ in the English word "Christmas" with the English "X", would not be equivalent to the early Christians' usage of the letter "χ" (chi) for "χριστος" (christos) in the Greek word "ιχθυς" (ichthous).  The acronym "ιχθυς" (Greek, for fish), was a term of affection for Christ and of identification with other Christians in a culture that was hostile to the followers of Christ.

The word Xmas, is none of these things for Christians today.  It is neither a term of affection for Christ nor of identification with other Christians.  It's just a way to shorten the word.  It replaces the word Christ, with the familiar English letter "X", not the little-known Greek letter "χ" (chi).  

(End of Greek lesson!)

Now, is God offended if we replace the word "Christ" with an "X" in Christmas?  This leads us to far more important questions: What is it that really grieves the heart of God?  Does God really care how we spell the word "Christmas"?  Does God even care if we celebrate Christmas?!  Or does he advocate a nativity scene in the courthouse square?

There are so many little, non-essential things that we Christians make a big deal out of.  What is really most important to God?  What really matters to him?  Shouldn't these be the things that really matter to us?  Here are a couple of scriptures where God tells us what's really important to him—

With what shall I come to the Lord 

And bow myself before the God on high? 

Shall I come to him with burnt offerings, 

With yearling calves? 

Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, 

In ten thousand rivers of oil? 

Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, 

The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 

He has told you, O man, what is good; 

And what does the Lord require of you 

But to do justice, to love kindness, 

And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)

One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 

And he said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God. Love God wholeheartedly. Love your neighbor.

Where does celebrating Christmas, Weihnachten, Navidad, Noël — or whatever we call the birth of Christ — come in here?  If, because of your love for Christ, you are celebrating Christmas, then do it in such a way that demonstrates and deepens your love for Christ.  Does what other people call the celebration of Christ's birth detract from your love for him?  

Do we expect the people outside of Christ to love him?  Of course not!  Jesus said they hated him, and they would hate us because we love him.  Why should we take offense if people outside of Christ put an "X" in the word "Christmas"?  They are the ones who crucified him, for goodness' sake.  And they would do it again, if they had the chance.

And why should the fact that some other Christians put an "X" in the word "Christmas", offend me?  If someone else spells differently the word that is commonly used in English to refer to the celebration of Christ's birth, should that in any way affect what motivates me to celebrate his birth?

Do you realize that early in the history of America, Christmas was a secular holiday, from which celebration devout Christians abstained?

Let's keep this all in perspective.  Remember what is important to God: loving him and loving our neighbors, by treating them justly and showing them mercy.  And let's do all of this with an attitude of humility: the servant mindset that marked the entire life and death of the Savior, whose birth we are attempting to celebrate.

Just think about this for a minute.  If we demand that the people in our culture show respect for our Savior, we are requiring that they serve us.  We are telling them to do what we like and what we think is important.  This is not how Jesus taught us, by his words or his life.  He instructed us to look for ways to serve, not to be served.

Neither Jesus nor his followers ever demanded anything of a culture that was either ignorant of, or hostile to, Christ.  Servants don't make demands; they serve.  Your Christmas will be most memorable, not because someone at the store says "Merry Christmas," rather than "Happy Holidays."  It will not have a great impact because there is a creche in front of City Hall.

And you can be sure of this: as our culture turns increasingly away from Christ (as all cultures do), demanding that the people hang onto the trappings of Christianity will not change people's hearts.  We can't save our country from spiritual decline by successfully convincing its people to call the tree a "Christmas Tree" instead of a "Holiday Tree."  (BTW, they apparently have not noticed that "holiday" is derived from "holy day"!  Soon they'll call it a "Special Day Tree", and we'll be greeted with "Happy Special Days".)

The only way to change the culture is by serving the people in it.  Like the hero in Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan, love your neighbor, one person at a time.  When they've felt your love, they'll listen to God's truth.

Your celebration of the birth of Christ will be most memorable if you give something significant to someone who can't give you anything in return.  My best memories of Christmas as a child were made when our family went grocery shopping to fill 3-4 big boxes with food, and then secretly delivered them to the front porches of families who really needed them.

I can't tell you what numerous gifts I may have received as a child, but reading the biblical account of Jesus' birth on Christmas mornings, and delivering boxes of food to people who needed them...these are my best memories of Christmas.

This is loving God and loving our neighbors.  This is what's important to our Savior.

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