Let us pray. "O Lord, forgive us for the times we fall into that same group of self-satisfied, self-righteous men who ought to have acknowledged thy Son, but who, in fact, rejected Him. Help us to believe that He came to us. Help us to receive Him. Amen."
I am seeing it more and more these days--and I get a little sick every time. Xmas, Xmas, Xmas. Somebody said it was a birthday; so I guess it must be the birthday of Mister X. Who is this man whom the world does not have time to name?
I know, there are those who defend Xmas on the grounds that X is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ and that it stands for Christ. And some have said that because of this, it was an early symbol of Christianity and marked secret meeting places of Christians.
That argument has never sounded convincing to me.
But I personally defend the use of Xmas. I think it is altogether appropriate and right that we should spell it this way. Let me show you why.
In Algebra, X stands for the unknown, and He is today the unknown Christ. Count the billboards advertising liquor. Then hunt for one advertising a church. I leafed through a popular magazine and almost every page was a full-size ad for liquor. Evidently some don't know the difference between Christmas spirit and spirits. Christmas does not come in bottles--not in liquor bottles, nor perfume bottles, nor bottles of shaving lotion.
If He stepped on earth today, would we know Him? Would we know Him? Or would John 1:11 have to be written all over again?
To the student, Christmas means a holiday; to the merchant, a sale; to the child, a present. Is there anybody to whom Christmas means Christ?
Unknown, even at this season in society, He is also unknown in the home. Did you hear about the little boy in Sunday school who was asked where Jesus was born?
He answered, "Philadelphia!"
"No," said the teacher.
"No," said the teacher. "It was Bethlehem."
"I knew it was somewhere in Pennsylvania," he said.
In 1247, there was established in London a priory called St. Mary of Bethlehem. A century later, it became a hospital; and by 1401, a hospital for the insane. It is well known that in those days, there was not modern care for the mentally ill. Such places were scenes of noise and confusion. St. Mary of Bethlehem was shortened to Bethlehem and eventually to Bedlam. That's how the word entered our language, and it is there still: bedlam. How is it at your house these days? Is it Bethlehem or bedlam?
Sadly, He is unknown in the church. We have tried too hard to be entertaining--and not hard enough to be enlightening. A little boy had made his first trip to the big top, and he was excited! "Mother," he said, "if you ever go to the circus, you'll never go to church again."
X is an abbreviation, and today He is the abbreviated Christ. Never have I seen it shortened "Christs." An old Roman said, "The Galilean has been too large for our small hearts." Faced with the choice of enlarging our hearts to receive Him or scaling Him down to our size, we choose the latter.
To some He is still a baby; to others, a teacher, a romantic figure, a name to conjure with, or a name to profane. What is He to you?
X stands for all the sins of omission. They are not, as someone said, "the sins you didn't commit."
X stands for all our attempts to imprison Christ in our own ideas. The Pharisees tried to keep Him within man-made rules. The Zealots tried to confine Him to their political purposes. We, with a Sunday-go-to-meeting Christ, imprison Him behind the stained glass windows.
X is a cancellation mark, and today He is the cancelled Christ. Herod cancelled Him for political reasons. The Sadducees cancelled Him for business reasons. The Pharisees cancelled Him for religious reasons.
There is a little Herod in all of us. We like to be political, in society if not in government. There is also a little of the Sadducee in us. Business or profession comes first. There is a little of the Pharisee in us, too. We like a self-serving religion, one that indicts what we never do and commands what we have already done and ignores what we fail to do.
Christ is regarded as out of date, out of step, and out of place: multiplying His loaves and fishes when no one eats bread at all and fish only on Friday; riding His donkey in the jet age; speaking of love in a world where only money and power talk; urging us to give in a world that takes; talking peace when we all believe that only war can save us!
Once, when Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, church leaders in one congregation actually suggested that church services ought to be cancelled.
In His own day, they cancelled Him, in fact!
Some say the cross may actually have been in the shape of an X. Every time you see Xmas, in your mind adjust that X a little and turn it into the shape of a cross. Adjust your thinking a little to see the real gift of God.
We are not saved by a baby
in a manger! We are saved by a man on a cross!
Author's note: We are indebted to Olin W. Hay for the basic idea and
outline of this sermon.