"Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’.” (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)
It’s the time of year where there are deals galore. All you need to do to get them is enter a special code in the appropriate box and the percentage off will be applied at checkout.
A Christian publishing house offered a site-wide discount using the code XMAS. One customer contacted them taking them to task for using XMAS instead of CHRISTMAS. She claimed they were taking Christ out of Christmas and should know better.
The publisher wrote back and explained that X actually had a long tradition in Christian publishing. Before the invention of the printing press, scribes would copy the Greek New Testament by hand. In so doing, they might abbreviate the name for Christ (Χριστός) with the Greek letter Chi, which looks like the letter X in our English alphabet.
So Xmas is scribal shorthand of sorts for Christmas. The X represents Christ, but that’s only if you are in the know. Xmas could mean different things to different people, depending on your perspective.
Let me suggest four possible perspectives for the X in Xmas, including what each perspective might think of the biblical account of Christ’s birth and a representative seasonal song.
The Atheist Perspective
This point of view (POV) crosses Christ out of Christmas. In fact, it’s not crazy about the word Christmas to begin with. Holiday greetings are more like it.
These are people who are actually doing what that complaining customer was talking about, Xing Christ out of Christmas. It’s kind of a mission statement for them. Religion is enslaving and an opiate to the mindless masses. They are saving people from themselves.
What would this POV think about the biblical account? It’s nothing but a fairy tale, ranking right up there with Frosty and Rudolph. The problem, though, is there are people who actually believe the nativity nonsense.
How about a seasonal song? One candidate is “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Nothing about Jesus and the season does carry danger to the naive.
The Commercial Perspective
The X in this POV is like the X the salesman puts on the contract to show you where to sign to close the deal on your purchase. Christmas is indeed the most wonderful time of the year because it’s when the bottom line moves most dramatically into the black. In fact, the season officially kicks off with Black Friday. The Advent calendar is numbered according to shopping days before the stores close.
Christmas is important in this POV because it is associated with festivity. It’s a time to have fun, put up decorations, give to others, and to spend time with family. All of these can be seen in Hallmark movies with their feel-good sentimentality but notable silence when it comes to the birth of Christ.
For this POV the biblical account is irrelevant. It doesn’t make any difference whether the birth of Jesus happened or not. It’s simply a time to party. Crank up the carols, string up the lights, and you’re good to go.
Among the many contenders for representative song, perhaps “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” stands out. You’ve got kids jingle-belling and everyone telling you to be of good cheer.
The Religious Perspective
This POV insists Jesus is the reason for the season. We’ve got to keep Christ in Christmas. You can’t have festivity without the nativity. If you only go to church one time of the year, this is it. If you’re one of those who still send cards, they should convey something spiritual, and your lawn decorations must include a manger scene.
What would the religious POV think about the biblical account? That it’s the historical record. It’s not Christmas without those events and we know about them because of what the Bible tells us. There we learn that Joseph and pregnant Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where she gave birth in a manger. The news went out through angels to shepherds who were on the job at night. It’s all pretty amazing, certainly worthy of celebration.
An apt song for this POV could be “Little Drummer Boy.” You’ve got the actual historical event with some fanciful things mixed in. Mary nodding and the ox and lamb keeping time to the beat of a drum. I’m not sure Mary would have been too happy trying to get Jesus to sleep with a banging drum but it makes for a fun song.
The Redemptive Perspective
This final POV for understanding the X of Xmas would not just see a crèche. It would see a cross. It would not just see a child; it would see the Christ. The birth announcement printed in Genesis 3:15 has finally been published. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4–5). This POV is a redemptive perspective.
The child born is none other than the promised Messiah. He is God incarnate. He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. He would live a sinless life, suffer a sacrificial death, and accomplish a glorious salvation. No wonder the response of the angelic host to the birth announcement made to the shepherds was, “Glory to God in the highest.”
What seasonal song might represent this redemptive POV? There is no shortage from which to choose. However, one Scripture-rich, creedal-confessing carol that captures the essence is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Christ, by highest Heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
How about you? What do you believe? What do you make of the X of Xmas? There’s nothing wrong with giving and receiving presents at Christmas, or anything wrong with letting your kids circle what they want in the Target circular. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a Hallmark movie or two and shedding a tear. There’s nothing wrong with singing “Jingle Bells” or wanting hippopotamuses for Christmas. But we don’t want to miss what Christmas is really about and that is the eternal Son of God coming into the world to save sinners.
(For more on where Christmas fits in to the Bible’s story click here to read the 34-page booklet, God’s Good News.)