Perry Emerick – Mesa Campus Pastor
So the other day as I was greeting folks for service, someone said appropriately to me, “Merry Christmas!” to which I responded the same. However, in that moment I was struck with the question, why do we say “Merry” instead of “Happy”? We say happy for everything else in our lives. Happy Birthday. Happy New Year. Happy Easter. Happy Thanksgiving. In fact, I can’t think of another holiday or occasion in which we use the word Merry. It even seems to be primarily used in the U.S. only, as many other nations do use happy. So thanks to the interweb, I decided to do a little research. I stumbled upon a blog by a guy named Matthew Schmitz from last year in which he explains it’s roots. You can read it here.
Ultimately, Merry is a reference to the word merriment, which is defined as:
cheerful or joyful gaiety; mirth; hilarity; laughter.
Apart from the word laughter, none of these words are words I ever use, or at least rarely use. Yet even though I don’t use them, I can certainly recognize the impression conveyed of an event that is over the top fun and exciting, maybe even augmented with a few “spirits” as referenced in the blog post. Compare that if you will to the word happiness:
The quality or state of being happy. Good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.
Can you see the difference? It’s nice; enjoyable; good. But there is a reservation to it. It’s nice, but not extravagant. So why the difference? Consider what Christmas is. Jesus came to earth and dwelt among us. That’s pretty significant. It reminds me of another story in the bible…a story about King David. It is found in 2 Samuel 6 and is the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Here we see David’s response to it:
“So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” 2 Sam. 6:12-15
I don’t know about you, but it sounds a lot more merry than happy. Dave was so over the top excited at the thought of having the Ark of the Covenant, the very presence of God, in his city. At Christmas, we are celebrating the the very presence of God as a baby, into our world, the greatest gift ever, coming to give us the greatest gift ever, which is the gift of grace. So how should we be prepared to receive it? I like how Matthew Schmitz sums it up in his post:
“Which phrase conveys a more fitting response to the overwhelming, unearned, gift of Christ’s birth? Suffice it to say that when our Lord comes I hope I do not greet him with dignified reserve but instead rush at him with the unguarded, unembarrassed joy of a child at play or man at his cups.”
I couldn’t agree more. Merry Christmas everyone!