It seems that one of the new and growing traditions of December is the argument over what is the appropriate greeting and salutation we're supposed to be offering each other toward the end of the year. There seems to be a growing concern that "Merry Christmas" is going out of vogue and that the more encompassing "Happy Holidays" is taking over. Some of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters see this as one more attack in the culture wars. "Put Christ back into Christmas!" they exclaim -- as if this was up to somebody other than themselves. It seems strange that anyone would insist on everybody wishing everybody the same spiritual exercise regardless of the spiritual tradition. I can't imagine wishing my friends at the neighboring synagogue a Merry Christmas anymore than I can imagine them wishing me a Happy Hanukah. It would be as if we had missed the point. (Though this year we did have a fun Thanksgivukah service together the night before Thanksgiving on the first night of Hanukah.) However, if the reverse were to take place and my Jewish friend were to wish me a Merry Christmas and I were to wish him a Happy Hanukah then we would experience the real intent of the exchange -- a personal wish.
It's all personal, isn't it? We wish Happy Holidays to strangers and that's the way it should be. We're not personal with them. We don't know enough to know what spiritual wish to extend. But for those we know, we get personal. The same would go with a Christian friend who's just lost a loved one -- wishing a Merry Christmas may be a way of saying I don't know or I don't understand or I don't care. Instead my best wish might be to say, "I hope these days are not too difficult for you." Now that's personal.
The shepherds of Bethlehem came away from the manger with no expectation that anyone was going to wish them anything. How could anyone have known? It was too personal. That's what the revelation of God is. They were just minding their own business when the angel appeared and frightened them half to death. Why us? they ask. Who are we to get such news? But got it they did and I can't imagine any attempt on their part to explain it would have been met with anything more than suspicious looks. It was too personal. The revelation of God to anybody about anything -- love, grace, forgiveness, wisdom -- is not a badge of honor or a civil right. The shepherds' story reminds us that whatever we've discovered about God came to us quite apart from our deserving nature or keen intellect.
Rewind the tape of your own life and consider the primary causes for your discovery of what you've come to believe about God. Did it have something to do with your family? The culture you were born in? The kindness of a friend? The care of a mentor? The compelling argument of an author? The passion of a spouse? Were these your choices? Likely not. Somehow, someway the news got to you by hook or by crook. If you really thought about it -- you could find little or no reason to take any credit.
And I wonder if that isn't the best place to be at Christmas -- that place where we find no room for self-credit. The revelation has come and I had nothing to do with it. It just came, sometimes despite myself. The mystery and wonder of that is both overwhelming and humbling. It certainly gives me no reason to insist on anybody wishing me any particular kind of holiday. Those closest to me who understand my epiphanies will know what to say. And if by chance I've cared enough to know what to say back -- well then maybe that's my way of putting Christ back into the holidays.