The Starbucks cups this year say “Carry the Merry.” I like it, actually. I think it’s a good reminder in 2020 to spread joy, to spread good cheer, to spread hope and love and faith. To “carry the merry.” That sounds a lot like what Paul says in Philippians (as we know from the recent Epistle lessons in the lectionary):
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Carry the merry is actually a pretty Christian habit. So I’m always a little bemused when Christians get so cranky this time of year: cranky about the Starbucks cups for not having baby Jesus on them, cranky about people writing Merry Xmas, cranky about people saying Happy Holidays. But cranky is not a very Christian habit, at least, not when we’re just being cranky to be cranky. (Lord knows we have plenty of legitimate reasons to be actually cranky this year.)
I’ve already pointed out that “Carry the Merry” is actually a pretty Christian frame of mind. What about Merry Xmas? Isn’t that just taking Christ out of Christmas? No, actually. The X in Xmas is not an Xing out of Christ, but the Greek letter chi. (Remember, Greek was the language in which the New Testament writings were composed.) The chi (X) of Xmas actually is an abbreviation of Χριστος, which is Greek for Christ. So, Merry Xmas actually means Merry Christmas.
Happy Holidays, though. That’s just a PC way of getting around saying Merry Christmas, right? Not really. Happy Holidays is just an elided way of saying Happy Holy Days. As Christians who follow a liturgical calendar, these are holy days. The days of Advent, the Twelve Days of Christmas (more on that next week), the days in which we prepare for and mark the Incarnation of our God. These are holy days. And so we say, “Happy Holidays!” Certainly, we could apply the greeting to our Jewish friends in their celebration of Hanukkah, which ends tonight. And really, there are any number of holy days we could celebrate with the same greeting.
So very often we treat Christ as though he is in need of saving, as though Christ can only be found in very specific ways, and if we miss the reason for the season we miss Christ completely. But Christ coming as an infant, born of a virgin girl whose faith in God’s promise was extraordinary, born in a manger, in a backwater of the Roman Empire–none of that is obvious. And we don’t need “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” plastered on our coffee cups or social media to find Christ this holiday–this holy day–season. Because the Incarnation tells us that Christ meets us precisely where we may not expect him. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in one of his masterful poems: “Christ plays in ten thousand places / lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
So, whatever greeting of joy we use in this season, let us remember that Christ plays in the features of the faces of all we meet, in their voices, in their wishes of joy and goodwill, no matter which words they may use. And in accepting one another with joy and goodwill, Christ plays in our faces and voices, too. In carrying the merry we carry one another, and we carry the joy of the Christ child in a lonely, dour, weary world. Christ plays in ten thousand places. Even in a Starbucks cup. So, carry the merry, friends, carry the merry.