By Pat Knight
It is nearly time to celebrate the holy day of Christmas. Or is it written Xmas? The cross, symbolic of Christ and His resurrection and the first letter of the word Christos or Christ, were expressed with an X in the Greek alphabet. Though some Greek symbols are retained in formal worship services today, the letter X no longer represents Christ Jesus exclusively.
According to tradition, the word Xmas has been in use for several centuries to signify Christmas. It is understandable that the letter representing Christ (X) and the shortened version of celebration (mas) were combined to form Xmas. While those familiar with Greek may fully recognize the reverence attached to Xmas, for most of the populace Xmas is merely a shortened version of Christmas. In our contemporary culture X is used to represent an unknown quantity, a flexible and functional symbol of the English alphabet that is used to emphasize or to cross out writings.
Christmas is a holy day proclaiming the incarnation of the Son of God on earth, the same Deity present with the heavenly Father at the creation of the world and throughout history. Apart from the Greek origin, if we remove Christ from Christmas, Xmas is the result, a generic, unadorned word. In our zeal to shorten every word possible, we have dishonored Christ’s birthday.
The original Christmas was a splendid event. On a still night outside the hills of Bethlehem, shepherds were huddled in the sheepfold, cloaks wrapped tightly against the cold, when suddenly thousands of tiny lights pierced the ebony sky. At that moment an angel emerged with the glory of the Lord shining in his presence. What a spectacular, paralyzing event!
The angel announced, “‘Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you; You will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:10-11). Before the shepherds could focus, “suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests’” (vv. 13- 14). What a stunning, stupefying event for the shepherds, whose occasional excitement involved confronting a wild animal predator. The shepherds had been singled out of all creation to receive the announcement of the Savior’s birth. When the angels left, the shepherds conferred, “‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’” (v. 15).
What pure excitement filled the hearts of the shepherds; thrilling, unprecedented heavenly exhilaration, an adrenaline rush felt by those in the presence of the angels! Although prophecy of the advent of the Messiah had been verbally communicated for centuries, no one was apprised of the time or location of his appearance. A baby King born in an animal shelter seemed incomprehensible. Yet, the angels were very convincing, typically appearing on earth only at extremely important times.
The shepherds expectantly walked to Bethlehem. They were not disappointed. “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (vv.16-18, 20).
Because they believed the angels’ message and acted on their information, the shepherds were granted exclusive rights to participate in the hallowed excitement at Jesus’ birth. The day was eventually named Christmas to represent Jesus’ incarnation, commencing His thirty-three year journey on earth, with the cross His ultimate goal.
Has our world advanced intellectually in two thousand years? The momentous date of Christ’s birth is now dubbed Xmas and the majority of people celebrate by honoring an impersonal, rotund Santa Claus clad in a fuzzy red suit. Twinkle lights and ornaments adorn a fir tree with wrapped presents beneath. For many, the story of Christ’s birth remains just another fairy tale spelled Xmas; an excuse for exchanging gifts.
Devoted, loving children of God celebrate the fullness of Christ’s birth: love come to earth, promises of a Messiah kept, and the beginning of the road to Calvary, where Jesus was cruelly sacrificed for the accumulation of our sins.
I have often wondered if there is economy of motion in writing Xmas as opposed to Christmas. Otherwise, if time value weren’t involved, why would we insist upon shortening the word Christmas? As I experimented writing the two words, I expended no less motion writing an X. By substituting an X for Christ’s name, we have depersonalized Christmas, like so many secular ornaments replacing the true characters of the nativity.
The word Christmas is not found in the Bible, but it is the name that has been passed down through the ages to commemorate the birth of Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Though traditions change, though we may substitute Christ’s name with an X, Christ our Lord has remained immutable throughout the ages.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:8-10). At Christmastime and always, let us worship Jesus with the glory and majesty due His name.
There is no greater love or grace available than for those who belong to Christ Jesus our Lord. As heirs with Him in God’s kingdom, let us assess our actions to magnify or to discredit His name. Join me this Christmas in eliminating the “X factor.” Our Messiah will be pleased. Join with the angels in proclaiming Christ as Lord. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).