The word “Christmas” is problematic for some. This English word comes from “Cristes Maesse,” a phrase that meant “Christ’s Mass.” As is the case so often, we use terms that originated in another language and even another religion. The “mass,” of course, is the Roman Catholic continuing sacrifice of Christ. If you check the internet, you will find some who are gravely concerned should we ever say, Merry Christmas, for the phrase would be understood as “May the death of Christ be joyful.” They may complain that Santa, who proclaims, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Death of Christ,” is actually a symbol for Satan who rejoiced at Christ’s death.
While there may be etymological truth to this, the meaning of a word is not necessarily found in its etymology. Our word “enthusiastic” comes from “en” and “theos” and, therefore, has the idea, etymologically, of being in God. I live in Green Bay Packer country, and I can attest that the vast majority of the enthusiastic fans are not “in God.”
If you look up “Christmas” today in a typical dictionary, it will say nothing about a mass. It will declare that “Christmas” is the celebration of the birth of Christ. When you tell the typical person on the street, Merry Christmas, they will accept it as a declaration of joy at the birth of Jesus.
May I suggest, however, that there is some truth in this etymological background? We do celebrate the death of Christ. We understand that he was born for the purpose of dying. We do rejoice in his death, for had he not died, we could not obtain salvation. The public ministry of Jesus began with these words from John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
The next time you tell someone, Merry Christmas, look for an opportunity to tell them the other side of Christmas.