I'm thinking in particular here of the notion of "The War on Christmas". Lots of church-folk have been led to believe that saying anything but "Merry Christmas" during this season is borderline if not fully heretical. So, in what they believe to be a litmus test of faith, they will not back down; whether it is offensive or not, they will say Merry Christmas to Muslims, Jews, Atheists and anyone else they know is not a Christian. They will also go on the news and complain about cashiers or waitresses who do not use the phrase "Merry Christmas" and how it is an affront to the principles this nation was founded on. I say "Hogwash!" But the whole nation's foundations argument is something we shall save for another day. Here, I want to focus briefly on the phrase "Merry X-mas" and show why it is COMPLETELY Christian to say such a thing!
First, I just want to say a word about the idea of what social-scientists refer to as "presentism". Now, we in the West, we here in America are incredibly good at practicing presentism, even if we don't know it. Basically, presentism is the notion that what something is now is the way it has always been. This happens a whole lot on the mission field for example. Missionaries will often travel to different cultures and when they get there, they will encounter different types of lifestyles and practices. For instance, they find out that communion is being dispersed differently during worship. Instead of attempting to understand those customs for what they are, because they are different, they are seen as wrong or sometimes even sinful. So, what do the missionaries do? They say, "No! This is wrong, it needs to be done this way (= our way); this is the way it has really always been done and this is the right way." This is presentism! (I'm not talking about the Buddhist idea of presentism here!)
This same principle applies with the issue of "Merry Christmas"! When Christians hear someone say Merry X-mas, they freak out! Why? Because they believe that this is different than the way it has always been done. They believe that by saying Merry X-mas, people are trying to "take Christ out of Christmas". They believe that history is being sacrificed. They believe that faith is under attack. But...they are wrong! They are VERY wrong; they are completely misguided, in fact.
The truth is, saying "Merry X-mas" is a good thing and it is absolutely in-keeping with Christianity. Why do I say this? Well, the fact is, the "X" in "Merry X-mas" is not meant to cross-out or remove or replace Christ. Early on in Christianity, writers were using this letter as a sort of short-hand, an abbreviation, for the name of Christ. The English or Latin letter "X" actually comes from the Greek letter Chi (pronounced "key"). Chi is written as Χ (upper case) / χ (lower case). Some early Christian writers actually used two Greek letters, the first two letters of the word "Christos" (Christ or Messiah), which where Chi (X ,x) and Rho (Ρ, ρ). Now, in Greek, the letter Rho, which is "Ρ" actually looks like an English letter "p". So, the abbreviation could be ΧΡ.
So, why did the early Christians use these abbreviations? Well, in antiquity, writing materials were very expensive. Papyrus and ink were costly and used sparingly. So, to save ink, the early Christians when they were writing, would use abbreviations like Χ or ΧΡ. Papyrus (the paper-like material) was often hard to acquire. To preserve space on the papyrus, abbreviations were used. Thus, in biblical manuscripts, sometimes instead of spelling out the full word "Christos", authors would use Χ or ΧΡ. For them, then, saying Merry X-mas would not have raised one eyebrow or sparked one argument. In fact, they would likely look at modern folks getting in a hissy fit over this and shake their heads; they wouldn't be able to stomach or believe it!
And before some of you Christians out there start going haywire over what I'm suggesting here, I'd suggest you take a look at all of the cars in your church parking lots (or driveways perhaps) with all of the little fish symbols on them! Typically, inside those Christian fish emblems, you will find these 5 Greek letters: ΙΧΘΥΣ. In English, that's the word "Ichthus". In fact, here in the town where Asbury is, there is a HUGE music festival each year called "Icthus". Millions have attended over the years!
Ichthus is Greek shorthand; it is a Greek abbreviation. The Ι (iota) stands for "Jesus", which was spelled Ihsous (Ιησους) in Greek. The Χ (chi) stands for "Christos", which we have already covered here. The Th (theta) stands for "Theos" (Θεος), which means "God" in Greek. The U (upsilon) stands for "Huios" ('Υιος) which means "son" in Greek and the Σ (sigma) stands for "Soter" (Σωτερ), which means "Savior" in Greek. Put all of this Greek shorthand or abbreviation together and you have Ichthus, which means "Jesus Christ God's Son, Savior". Many times it is the very same Christians who cry foul when the abbreviation X-Mas is used, that have these abbreviated Christian symbols attached to their cars. One could, I suppose, cry foul against them saying that they are trying to write the words Jesus, Christ, God, Son and Savior out of the Christian faith because they use symbols. This could be especially true of those who have the fish symbol without the Greek letters!!! But, alas, I have said enough!
The point is, Christians who raise a stink every Advent about "taking Christ out of Christmas" are often walking contradictions; they are often practicing presentism, which is really just a form (in this case) of arrogance mixed with ignorance in a religious context. The end result, however, is that it makes us all look bad. If more Christians were aware of their history, the faith would be so much better off. Yet, instead of doing the hard work of historical research, they'd rather make a public spectacle of the faith.
I suppose that much of this is because we don't have a lot of real physical persecution in this country. So, to make themselves feel like they are sacrificing for the faith, they whine and whine about things like this so that they can feel like they are enduring persecution and that they are faithful. Really, this is nothing more than a pseudo-piety, that is, a false piety. So, with all of that in mind, I wish you all a very Merry X-mas! And I say that knowing that I'm in the good company of many of our earliest Christian writers and their documents!