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Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Tuesday 19th December 2017

The Real Problem with Saying “Merry Christmas”

It’s that time of year, when a little ruckus rises up over whether we ought to tell one another “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.”

By now, folks have analyzed the latest Starbucks coffee mug designs. We noticed whether our friends’ greeting cards were imprinted with secular or sacred greetings. And generally, this time of year, there’s a political uproar over the whole thing. The president got in on the debate, clear back when he was running for office. “We’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” he promised. It’s a promise he’s personally kept.

The other day, a woman at the grocery store wished me “Happy Holidays.” A part of me longed for her to tell me, “Merry Christmas.” But then I felt a check in my spirit.

There’s actually a glaring problem with saying those two words, “Merry Christmas.”

The real problem with saying “Merry Christmas” isn’t that we’ll offend non-Christians.

The real problem with saying “Merry Christmas” is that we’ve forgotten what those words actually mean. We’ve forgotten the weight that those words carry.  

And when I say “we” have forgotten, I’m not just talking about the store clerks and receptionists. I’m talking about those of us who profess to follow Jesus. I’m talking about the people who will gather in sanctuaries on Christmas Eve.

I’m talking about us.

Do we really know what we’re saying when we say “Merry Christmas?” Do we really mean what we say? Because if we really mean that we merrily celebrate his birth, we are saying we also unite with him in his death, his resurrection, and his call to make disciples.

If we really mean “Merry Christmas,” it will cost us something. It may cost us everything.

It might mean giving until it hurts. It will probably mean standing on God’s word, when culture shifts away from it. It will definitely mean sacrifice. And it will mean we sacrifice with joy. MERRY Christmas. 

I’m sorry if I am stepping on your toes, but let me tell you this: I’m also stepping on mine.

I’ve been saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone, everywhere I go. But am I really willing to make myself uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel?

I say “Merry Christmas,” yet I turn against Jesus again and again, forgetful and unrepentant, and twisted in my thinking. I lose my focus at Christmas. I spend more time on Amazon Prime than with Scripture. Don’t forgive like I should. Demand my own way. Stomp my feet. Get really bossy with God. Doubt. Man, have I doubted Him.

Christmas is not a greeting at the store. Christmas is not a political platform. Christmas — real Christmas — is not a political party, a certain set of traditions, a tree, a pile of gifts. It is not a happy little feeling for an hour at the church.

Christmas is all about Jesus. And it’s positively dangerous. It’s dangerous, because we are owning the name associated with a holy God and His only Son. This alone should cause me to kneel — or fall flat on my face.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I really don’t think Jesus cares what we say to each other at the grocery store. I think He cares about how we’re living our faith in a world desperate for His light and truth.

Do our whole lives say “Merry Christmas?” Or just our words?

Here’s what Christmas really is:

Christmas is pick up your cross and follow,
and spend yourself on behalf of the hungry,
and act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
It is The Way of the contrite and broken.
It is not my will, but Thine be done.
It is “blessed are the poor in spirit,”
and a rejoicing in our suffering.

It is salt and light and fruit of the Spirit. It’s always, always “prepare him room.”

It’s a cup and broken bread.

It is the belief that Christ is our only hope, that heaven is our future home, and that we get to do His work right here, today, before we go there, someday.

Christmas is not a word for your greeting card, but a way to wrap your whole life around a cup and a cross. It’s not an empty promise for prosperity, but investing our very lives in each other because of an empty tomb.

Merry Christmas is happily agreeing to “love your neighbor as yourself” — even when your neighbor looks an awful lot like your enemy, or someone who doesn’t believe the same things you do. Christmas also commands this: “Go and make disciples.”

It’s a walk on water, hyssop on the lips, and a belief that Christ is the central figure of the most radical story to hit planet Earth.

If you tell me “Merry Christmas” at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, I hope you know that the biggest problems of this world can’t be fixed with a self-help book. They can only be fixed with three nails.

Christmas believes that an enemy prowls, but that a King wins — that the battle isn’t over, but the war is already won.

I won’t deny it: Christmas People believe in crazy things. We believe that God’s Son descended from Heaven to Earth — not so we can have a party on December 25, but so He could die a horrific death and carry people’s sins away.

It’s scandalous, isn’t it?

Scripture whispers that scandalous truth that Jesus wants our ragged, rule-breaking hearts, these hearts that have spurned Him. There’s a word for it: grace.

These are the foolish ways of the Christmas People. And so, then, I shall be a fool among them.

Today, I say to you with all the boldness I can muster: “Merry Christmas.” And when those words cross my lips, I don’t even know the half of it. I don’t really know how much it cost my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Someday, I will. Until then, I’ll say it to you, and I’ll say it out loud for the sake of the gospel:

Merry Christmas.

The Light of the World stepped down into our darkness.

And that changed everything.

#TellHisStory

Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there!

Our featured writer this week is Rachel Lee. “Is it possible that we dismiss what God is doing right before our eyes, because we expect it to look differently?” What a question to consider this Advent… and what a beautiful story of the gift of her unexpected pregnancy. Find Rachel here.

To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. xo Jennifer


  • Pam Manners

    “I really don’t think Jesus cares what we say to each other at the grocery store. I think He cares about how we’re living our faith in a world desperate for His light and truth.”

    My word, THIS just says it ALL! Amen and thank you, Jennifer. What a wake up call for each and every one of us who proclaim to be followers of Christ.

    • Grateful for you, Pam. Have a very blessed and merry Christmas.

  • Best thing I’ve read all day!

    • Thanks, Yvonne. That means a lot.

  • Amen, well said! I agree, I don’t think Jesus cares as much about what we say as He cares about us living out our faith!

  • Lynn Morrissey

    Jennifer, I have thought about this a LOT lately, and as usual, you express such sentiments so well. It’s not about the freedom to be able to *say* Merry Christmas in America (or especially expecting non-Christian clerks to offer that greeting or to repeat it back to you). Words can be cheap. Do we live them? Almost always in my Christmas newsletter (and in talks), I bring people back to the crux of Christmas, which is the Cross of Christ. Yes, He had to be born as perfect man who is God, but unless He had died and atoned for our sin, Christmas would never have led to Easter. You (we) need both. We have to remember too that our culture doesn’t think: Christ-Mass, but rather kris-mus… it’s just a word anyway to those who do not know Christ–a time for gift-giving and fun w/ family and friends, a time off from work. So in those terms, whether or not they say it or hear it, what difference does that make in their lives? But what will make a difference is our compassion, our love, our generosity, our encouragement, and our sharing by those actions and yes, ultimately our words, the hope that is in us! God bless you dear Jennifer, and yes, yes, MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, Scott, and the girls. We make merry because He loved us to come to us, live among us, bleed and die for us. That is Good News worth rejoicing about.
    xoxo
    Lynn

    • This comment is so rich, Lynn. I love the point about Christ-Mass vs. kris-mus . … Thanks so much. I appreciate you, your letters, your friendship, and so much more.

  • Amen, sister.
    The real controversy around Christmas is that the holiday is first and foremost an indictment of our sinfulness and our need of a huge rescue that shook the heavens. The great salvation that came to us with Jesus should result in humility, but I’m afraid that’s not our default. Thanks for this season re-set and the grace of your words.

    • Grateful for the ways you live Merry Christmas in your life, Michele. You are a blessing.

  • Sarah Geringer

    So true, Jennifer. I think it’s far more important to be salt and light every single day in the world, rather than only saying “Merry Christmas” for six weeks or so. Jesus told us to count the costs of following him, and one of those costs is being bold for his sake. But oh, the joys are rich for those of us who follow him closely–I know you understand. Christmas blessings prayed for you and your family (especially your father) today, friend.

    • I always think about how Jesus, “who for the JOY set before him” endured the cross. For the JOY!!

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Jennifer,
    Thank you for making me really THINK and meditate upon just what it is that I’m saying and what I’m living. Our situation isn’t Merry, is deplorable and thus we need Saving. Maybe we need to greet each other with “Praise our Salvation comes!” I don’t know the answer….but Jesus first….merriment is not the object of the season. Prayers for your Daddy.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    • Thanks for those continued prayers. I get to see Mom and Dad today! So excited.

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  • Debby Reedy

    Great article. I think you really hit the mark. I certainly meditated on it and thought more carefully about if our actions speak louder than our words. Thanks for being so bold and sharing this. Merry Christmas and may we all remember the reason for the season is Christ alone.

    • Thank you, Debby. I appreciate the way you’ve accepted my words with such grace.

  • You convict me with your words. I’m all about spreading cheer, and less about making myself uncomfortable :/.

    • I was preaching to myself as well, my friend. Merry Christmas to you.

  • Rebecca Jones

    Personally, I don’t mind saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, they should be happy and holy days. People always have their own take away about it anyway, the ones that know me won’t think I’m advocating all religions, there is only one name to save you and it is Jesus but He came for the whole world and anyone who would believe.

    • Interesting bit of trivia, which you may know: Holiday actually means “holy day.”

  • Tara Ulrich

    It did indeed change everything. I want to live out the words to Micah 6:8 every day. I believe you’re right..God cares more about how we live out the Gospel in this broken world.

    • Yes! Merry Christmas to you, Tara.

  • Lynn Mosher

    Oh, Jennifer. This is wonderful. Amen and amen! I’ve been thinking some on this as well. Love this sentence: “Christmas is not a word for your greeting card, but a way to wrap your whole life around a cup and a cross.” May you and your family have a joyous and blessed Jesus’ birthday! 😀

    • Grateful for you, always, Lynn. xo

  • This makes me think of someone in my life that always said I love you, but never had the actions to back it up. And now I’ve become that person in some ways.

    I say Merry Christmas without living Merry Christmas. There’s a big difference. Praying today to shift and walk out Christmas, and all it means. Thank you for writing brave and true.

    • Yeah. This message could totally fit other circumstances, where people don’t live what they say! Thanks for sharing that, Rebecca. Sorry that’s been the case with someone in your life. I’m sure that was/is very painful to experience that from someone who was supposed to love you well.

  • Melissa Gendreau

    What an amazing and powerful post. Thank you for the reminder to live “Merry Christmas” all year long with the boldness and courage that it requires.

    • So glad it spoke to you, Melissa. Thank you for being here.

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  • Susan

    Amen. Amen. Amen. I wonder how many “amen’s” will fit in the comment box? Truth!

    • Thanks, Susan. And MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  • Thank you for giving us a little bit to think about as the words roll off, “Merry Christmas.”

  • This is so good!

  • JosephPote

    Well written, Jennifer!

    I always wonder when I hear/see slogans like, “I’m putting Christ back in Christmas. How about you?”

    I wonder what it means…what does it mean to the person posting the slogan? What does Christ mean to them? What does Christmas mean to them? Were they previously leaving Christ out of their Christmas? Does this mean they’ve chosen to change their holiday focus? Or does it just mean they refuse to abbreviate the word ‘Christmas’?

    Thanks for the provocative post!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours! 🙂

  • Thanks for bringing this distinction to our minds, Jennifer. Next time I say Merry Christmas I hope I’ll be more intentional about the CHOICE it is, not just a given. May you and your family have a blessed Christmas, Jennifer!

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  • Sherry Thecharmofhome

    Bravo, you are touching on something here that the Lord would love us to wake up to. Christmas isn’t anything like what we celebrate…at all. We are taking for granted and acting on daily things that will have heavy spiritual consequences and most people just have no idea. He will call everyone out on every last action and even thought. It is humbling indeed! Thanks for hosting and have a wonderful celebration of the season where we celebrate our Savior.

And then you wake and remember how nature can be a pulpit, and how the sky is a priest, and how God reaches down to find you by using just the right color. ✴️ For days, we have been playing Orange-Colored Sky for mom as she fights through pain and di… ift.tt/2DSMpUZ pic.twitter.com/WCbF5yorea