TV commercials announce “Xmas” sales and church members complain that stores have taken Christ out of Christmas.
There definitely is a commercialization of Christmas. But the term Xmas isn’t part of it.
As we know, God sent Jesus first to save the Jews and only secondarily to save us gentiles. Thanks to Paul and his traveling band of evangelists, Christianity arrived in Rome and Greece. There the early church found a solid base and secured the formation of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christian churches—from which our other varieties of Christianity have evolved.
Because in those early years, Christian leadership was focused in Rome and Greece, many of the words and phrases in Christian-ese come from the Roman and Greek languages.
One of those is the word “Christmas.”
In Roman Catholic tradition, Christmas is the celebration of the “mass of Christ” or “Christ’s mass.” It is a celebration of the rite of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) or "mass" of Christ.
That’s the Roman Catholic part of the word “Christmas.” Now for the Greek Orthodox twist.
In the Greek alphabet, the letter “X” is pronounced “chi” and the Greek letter “P” is pronounced “rho.” The letter “Σ” corresponds to our letter “S.” The Greek letter “I” is pronounced “I,” "T" is "T" and “O” is “O.”
End of the Greek language lesson. Now you know enough to read the Greek word, ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ. It is pronounced “Christos”—Greek for “Christ.”
Just as we sometimes use initials or monograms for our names, the early Greek Church used the letters XP (chi-rho) to refer to Christ. Often, the two would be combined into one symbol, like this:
You will still see this symbol in Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and even in Protestant churches—on altar cloths, banners and vestments, bible bookmarks, pulpit cloths—embroidered with the Greek monogram of Jesus, the Christ. Here's a sample of a protestant church parament:
Just as you might sign a note with the initial of your first name only, so early Christians sometimes used just the single letter “X” to refer to Christ.
I’ve decided not to let the use of “Xmas” bother me. Instead, if I hear someone say “Merry Xmas,” it’s an opportunity for me to pronounce it clearly for them: Christ’s mass.
And then share with them what it means to me. And what it could mean to them. The gift from Christ’s heart to us.
In our modern world, we often sign letters to those we love with our initial, preceded by XOXO—sending along our kisses and hugs.
That’s what God, did, too—when He sent Jesus. Jesus (X) is God’s kiss to the world.
The Kiss of Christ.
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, you know how important words are. You spoke our world into creation and you gave us the ability to read and speak languages. Remind us of the meaning of words; remind us of the meaning behind the name “The Christ.” Thank you, Jesus for becoming human for our sake. Amen.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? Have you used the opportunity to share the meaning behind the word: Christ-mas?