“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.” – Luke 2:16-18
At the end of the midnight Christmas Eve service, we blow out our candles, the lights come back up and everyone cheers and hollers “Merry Christmas!” At least, that’s how it works in the places where I usually worship. In other parts of the English-speaking world, it is more accepted to greet one another as the holy day dawns with a more sedate, “Happy Christmas.”Merry is an old word, and a bumptious one, with its suggestion of parties and revels, of celebrations spilling over from homes into streets, of private moments transforming into public ones. “Happy,” I heard somewhere, “is an emotional condition, while ‘merry’ is a behavior.”
The angels sang the first glorias, but it was the shepherds who ran into the streets of Bethlehem and beyond to shout the first, “Merry Christmas!” The shepherds were uneducated and marginalized and they probably smelled strongly of, well, sheep. And yet, as they spoke of the wonders they had seen in the manger, “all who heard it were amazed.” Their happy emotional condition overflowed into merry behavior that has caught our imagination for two thousand years.
So, like the shepherds, let us make merry today. Like the shepherds, let us tell of the Child in such a way that all who hear are amazed. Like the shepherds, let us shout “Merry Christmas!” so boisterously that the words echo into the street, the neighborhood, the nation, the world.
Child, born to us today and every day, transform our amazement into merriment as we celebrate You. Gloria!
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.