These days I find that fewer and fewer people say it that way. ‘Happy’ often replaces ‘Merry’, but I like the contrast between Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Happiness and merriment, after all, aren’t quite the same thing. Merriment belongs to a time of feasting and celebration. It can’t last for ever, nor is it supposed to. No one really wishes that it could be Christmas every day!
Happiness is something else, something closer to contentment. In Christian language, we might see this as a combination of peace and joy, two of the major themes of the Christmas season.
There is great wisdom, it seems to me, in this distinction. We should aim always to cultivate that sense of peace and joy that comes from knowing ourselves to be loved by God, trusting that our eternal destiny is in God’s hands. Even at times of great difficulty and challenge, when the core of our identity is rooted in this we can experience extraordinary contentment.
Merriment, however, belongs to specific times and places. We can decide to celebrate, and we can decide not to. We can focus our hearts and minds on the good things in life, or we can allow ourselves to be preoccupied with fear and contempt.
At Christmas, we celebrate the miracle of God’s incarnation in the infant Jesus. This is, of course, quite hard to understand, but it is nevertheless a cause for real celebration and merriment. Throughout Advent we have had our attention centred on our need of God, and now God’s startling response is before our eyes. Something to celebrate indeed.
There has been a trend in recent years for ‘Blue Christmas’ services. There are certainly many people who find it very difficult to make merry at this time of year, and other people’s celebration can make that a lot worse. It’s a good idea to keep those folk in view in the way that we go about our Christmas worship. Nevertheless, the good news of Christmas, and therefore the merriment of Christmas also, is not really about our circumstances. It’s about what God has done, and the delight of that should never be confused with the jollity of a secular Christmas.
So I say again, Merry Christmas! And I hope you will make merry in your celebration of the birth of the Christ child, the one in whom God enters our human story in person. This child will save and redeem the world, no less. May that miracle bring you deep joy this Christmas and throughout the year that lies ahead.
May God bless you all,