At Your Merriest
posted on December 14
At Your Merriest
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven,
the shepherds said to one another,
‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us.’
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been
told them about this child;
And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”
At this time of year, I find myself listening for the phrases “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas.” I receive them both as salutations of good will. I don’t judge. I just receive, thankful for every positive interaction with humankind in a world where people aren’t as gentle as they used to be. (Wow, I sound old.)
The history of the phrases is worth a quick look. Some say that “Merry Christmas” entered our lexicon as early as 1699, when an English admiral used the phrase in an informal letter. Honestly, it’s not until much later that Christmas really took on steam as a “holiday” and became something that people paused to celebrate. In the early church, Easter was the big day.
Eventually, we began putting gifts under Christmas trees, digging into treats like “figgy pudding”, and singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (that great finale’ of caroling events). In 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol and we met the famous Ebenezer Scrooge, who taught us about the lack of “Christmas spirit.” Buddy the Elf didn’t even come along until 2003, cementing the importance of “Christmas Spirit.”
“Happy Holidays” is a nod to the phrase “holy days”, so I never belittle it. Some have even argued it is the more religious of the two phrases, offering us a blessed Advent, a “merry” Christmas, and a happy New Year all in five syllables.
Back to “merry.” In terms of syntax, “merry” is something we make. It is a conscious choice. It could lead to revelry, of course, and probably did in the era in which John Wesley would have heard the phrase, which was shortly after the Admiral penned it. To “make merry” means “to be joyful, to celebrate and be in general good cheer.” In short, the phrase contends that Christmas should be a time when we endeavor to what we call today “a good mood.”
So … how’s your mood? My daughter Ellen shared that she was shopping at Old Navy last weekend. She said, “Mom, I think I was the only one in the long line who had Christmas spirit.”
A few years ago, I attended a seminar for pastors who were preparing to change appointments. We call it the “moving seminar”, but it’s not always “moving” in terms of what we learn. (Pun intended.) One year, it was particularly moving for me. The leader asked us to reflect on the following question:
“I am at my best when …”
This was a riveting question for me, and useful as I transitioned to my next appointment. I was able to name 5-6 scenarios when I am truly at my best. I endeavored to mindfully practice ministry at my best. For me, it was as simple as “I am at my best when I can be home a few nights a week to prepare a good supper for my family” or “I am at my best when I practice the daily examen.”
How does this translate to Christmas? Think about when you are “at your merriest.” Is it when you have left important details to the last minute? Or is it when you have taken the time needed to accomplish the things that will make for meaningful events? Is it when you can stand in a long line at a place like Old Navy and practice your smile as a living witness, as you think about what the season might mean to the person next to you in line, or how much you might bless someone with the gifts you are purchasing?
I encourage you to be “at your merriest” whenever possible. I know the season can be challenging, even emotional. But someone is watching, and merry might be contagious. Just ask the angels and the shepherds. The message passed from one angel to many, and from the shepherds to all the people around Bethlehem who heard them share their experience. And by grace, it has been passed to us because someone in a good mood told us the real story of Christmas. Thanks to be God.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
Rev. Bev Coppley