I love Christmas. It’s one of my favourite seasons. I love the fact that it unites – that it’s something that so many people share. I love the fact that it’s a time for families and love ones to get together. I love the trimmings – the lights, the decorations, the special food and even the smells of mulled wine and cinnamon. It’s all part of having a very Merry Christmas.
Yet for the lonely, the bereaved, the orphan and the homeless Christmas can be one of the hardest times of the year. They must not be neglected. That’s why I’m so pleased that The Belfrey is having a special lunch on Christmas Day for those who would love to come. It’s so no-one in York has to miss out on having a very Merry Christmas. And that’s why it’s so good that many people from the church community will be sharing their homes on Christmas Day with international students, or with folk with no family to go to. We’ll be doing the same. It’s all part of having a very Merry Christmas.
I’ve been telling people this year about my favourite Christmas word. It’s the word ‘bauble’. It’s a great word. It love hearing people pronounce it in slightly different ways. And it’s so onomatopoeic – that is, it sounds like it is. For me, it has an usual, rounded, dangly kind of sound, that I think is great! But coming in a close second in my favourite Christmas words, is the word ‘merry’. ‘Merry’ is also a good word. Interestingly it’s mainly used in English today to describe someone slightly drunk – so we say someone’s ‘a bit merry’. But that misses what’s really at the heart of the word. The word originates from the old English word mirige meaning ‘pleasant, agreeable or delightful’ referring to a state of well being that our forebears believed came not from alcohol, but from God. That’s why the carol begins: ‘God rest you merry, gentlemen’ – picking up a medieval blessing, meaning: ‘May God grant you delight, gentlepeople’. Where the comma goes is really important because put it in the wrong place and the whole meaning changes! It’s not ‘God rest you, merry gentlemen’ asking God to bless people who are drunk! It’s ‘God rest your merry, gentlemen’ asking God to bless us with true merriment at Christmas – merriment and delight that comes from knowing that God did not leave us alone but came to live among us as one of us in Jesus Christ (Mt 1:23).
That’s what makes Christmas real and alive and merry – knowing that Jesus is the reason for the season. That’s what’s behind the presents, the pantos and the partying. And that’s why it’s doesn’t matter that Jesus probably wasn’t born exactly on 25 December, or that the date was once a pagan winter festival that many years ago was Christianised. The important thing is that at Christmas we celebrate Jesus! It’s as we do that, the carol affirms, that God grants ‘tidings of comfort and joy’. It is God who brings gladness to our hearts, like he did to the shepherds at that first Christmas (Lk 2:10) as we remember all he has done for us in sending Jesus Christ, as our Saviour.
This Christmas remember where true merriment comes from, and make sure you give a massive dose of it away to others. Do that, and whatever your circumstances I’m sure you and yours will have a very Merry Christmas.