Text Messages

Text Messages

Is “Merry Christmas” a Tool of the Devil?

I’m kidding. Mostly. But: 

For the last few years, many conservative Christians have been concerned with the secularization of Christmas. Following the lead of Bill O’Reilly and others, they’ve spent a lot of energy protecting their right to say “Merry Christmas” and perform other public acts of sectarian merry-making. 
There is much to lament in this particular front of the culture war, especially since the brouhaha distracts us from combating the real threat to Christmas. But for now, I just want to point out the irony of Christian attempts at protecting our right to make merry: 
The short season leading to Christmas–that is, Advent–is a penitential season, not unlike Lent. In keeping with Christian tradition, we should be reflecting on our longing and need for the Messiah, not defending our right to a public Nativity scene
As I’ve explained previously, I’m a newcomer to liturgical traditions. But I welcome these corrections to my sense of the holiday. Our December should be marked by humility, not cultural defensiveness. Let’s not reflect on the need of others to acknowledge our privileged status in this pluralist democracy; rather, let’s reflect on our own need for hope, for a visible inbreaking of God, for salvation. 
An old post by Calvin College’s Jamie Smith prompted this reflection. Like him, I value the wisdom of the gorgeous Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which sums up what should be our true holiday spirit in the days before the 12 Days of Christmas:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.


O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Comments read comments(15)
post a comment

posted December 9, 2008 at 4:12 pm

did you graduate from Doherty HS in 1993?

report abuse

Patton Dodd

posted December 9, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Yep. Hi Petra! Email me, if you like, at

report abuse

Daniel Grothe

posted December 9, 2008 at 11:41 pm

Patton, you are too good at this. Great insight. PLEASE keep it coming. I’m needing some thai food with you in a real way. Much love.

report abuse

Your Name

posted December 12, 2008 at 6:16 am

I enjoyed this post; Patton Dodd make some excellent points on Christmas and its true meaning for Christians. I particularly liked his words, “Let’s not reflect on the need of others to acknowledge our privileged status in this pluralist democracy; rather, let’s reflect on our own need for hope, for a visible inbreaking of God, for salvation.”
Words of truth such as the above, are like seeds, that when planted will harvest much good.

report abuse

Your Name

posted December 12, 2008 at 1:37 pm

2Cor. 4:1-4 reads,”That is why, since we have this ministry according to the mercy that was shown us, we do not give up; 2 but we have renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking with cunning, neither adulterating the word of God, but by making the truth manifest recommending ourselves to every human conscience in the sight of God. 3 If, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, 4 among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.”
True christians go by the Bible. They are not blinded by the god of this system of things from knowing that December 25th is UNSCRIPTURAL.
Rom. 12:1,2 reads, “Consequently I entreat YOU by the compassions of God, brothers, to… quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making YOUR mind over, that YOU may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
By teaching Bible TRUTH, TRUE CHRISTIANS are proving to themselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
But, if December 25th is Bible TRUTH, let the person show me where in his/her Bible it is written? Note, Bible is the book of God’s Law. No one wants to act lawless, because: “21 “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. 22 Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ 23 And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew YOU! Get away from me, YOU workers of lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:21-23)

report abuse

Mike T

posted December 12, 2008 at 3:16 pm

To the last poster – I’m not totally sure where you’re coming from regarding “December 25th as being Bible TRUTH” or not – it’s simply the date we set aside to recognize and celebrate Christ’s birth.
I’m going to “steal” my wife’s comments about the subject and post them here –
“Interesting – this issue has so many sides. On the one hand, our religious beliefs are faith-based, and “outward” symbols are really unimportant, and our relationship with God does not suffer with or without them, but as Americans these are rights (i.e., the right to say “Merry Christmas”). This is not so much a religious crusade for people like Bill O’Reilly, as much as a civil rights one. I don’t think I would assume that the personal faith-based journey through Advent couldn’t be taking place with a civil rights crusade taking place publicly.”

report abuse

Rick W

posted December 13, 2008 at 8:59 am

I totally agree that we christians should be observing the season of advent leading to Christmas. However, I really chafe at the left doing its best to push us “under the rug” just so their collective consciences won’t be stung by the truth of the season. Thanks.

report abuse

Your Name

posted December 13, 2008 at 9:48 am

Why do you want to make it so complicated all the time. Some of these passages of comments, I have a hard time understanding. Are you trying to confuse everyone or what. We are to spread the word of GOD, not man’s word and beliefs. And simply we need to get the word of everyone in any fashion we can get it to them. Have you ever had to try and teach the word and works of GOD to someone that has no concept of what you are talking about. Get real we are here to spread the word of GOD to everyone and just as long as they believe in God and what he has done for us and his coming back for us what else is there? I have the opportunity to teach to children and young people and if I have to use Santa as one of God’s helpers then I will do so. I wish we could have these arguments year around about wishing people good will and a Merry “anything” in God’s name all year long. I believe in God’s coming and If we don’t have anything else to argue about then how we greet people then we really are in trouble.

report abuse


posted December 13, 2008 at 10:03 am

I work in a school of multi-cultural people with multi-cultural beliefs and we all got along because we respected each others rights to believe as we wanted to. I would always say Merry Christmas and they would return with their own response. I believe we have these problems when people try and control all the situations and have it their own way and not God’s way. I not going to try and quote the bible or God’s book because anyone can argue about their beleifs and what it means. But I know through my experiences with my church that we are taugh to love one another and respect them. Although God wants us to spread his word over the earth we need to continue to respect each other and their cultures because that’s how they were brought up. How would you feel if someone came into your life and tried to change all of your beliefs and your culture and tell you it was wrong. Most of the time we are a lot of talk and not work. The world has to many leaders and not enough follower and we are all power hungry to get what we want that we forget the real issue. Some of the comments hit the nail on the head and some of them just wanted to argue and gripe for what reason. God is coming back to get us are you ready or are you going to argue with him about whether or not you got to say Merry Christmas. I think you need to say it and forget about it, as a Christian and a person I think you have that right and if not say it anyway for God’s sake.

report abuse


posted December 13, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Yes,I believe we should think about what the season represents,the one that was born and ultimately died for us-Christ.However,the only reason that the holiday is placed during THIS time of year is to counteract the old pagan festivities that also occured around this time of year.That was established way back in the Catholic religions history,therefore,Christians today believe it to be fact that he was born in the month of Dec. since that was centuries ago that the Catholics adopted these traditions.What do I think is the truth? Well,the facts stare at us every day in the scriptures,but we don’t simply pay attention.A lot of what the shepherds were doing 2,000 years ago hasn’t really changed in modern times,the only time of year that the shepherds are seen out in the fields with their flocks,is in the WARMER months of Spring.A lot of traveling was done by various groups when the event took place,the Magi,or what we know as now days as astronomers,had traveled quite aways to get to Jesus.Something they may not have been able to do if the environment was cold and harsh at that time.Scientists also have determined that an extrodinary thing had taken place 2,000 years ago in the heavens,a star exploded,putting out a HUGE beautiful light that the Magi had followed to Jesus.They were able to date that event back to what we know of now days as the month of April.That also brings up another obvious clue-this is ancient times,in another land,their calendars are quite different than ours today.Am I an atheist for thinking this?,no,I’m a Christian,I’ve grown up in the church,and have a granddad and past generations as preachers.I just want people to realize that what they think is the truth,is very possibly incorrect.We need to think about Christ not only when it gets cold and the month on the calendar reads December,but at other times of the year as well.I am a member of the Church of Christ-no,not the controversial United COC that Obama’s former preacher belongs to,but just plain ‘ol traditional Church of Christ.We do not put out a Nativity Scene at our building.Please don’t get me wrong,I’ve seen some really beautiful displays,and I think the reenactments are alright,but I truly believe that maybe the word needs to get out that we don’t truly know the EXACT date of his birth since it was SO long ago.Also,thinking back on the text-who would be trying to travel through the snow and freezing temps with a pregnant lady on a donkey? What gets me upset is when folks put WAY too much empahsis on saying “it’s Dec. 25th! It’s HIS day because I say so!,and my preacher says so!”Open your minds to the possibility it’s may not be so-please

report abuse


posted December 13, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Over the Centuries, we as Christians have worshiped and celebrated Dec. 25th as the Birth of our Lord and Savior; for whatever the reason. When the day comes that historians can pinpoint the EXACT DATE, then we will move to that date, but as it is now: I will always celebrate Dec. 25th for what it means to us.

report abuse


posted December 13, 2008 at 2:56 pm

christmas december 25th is the birhtday of mithra not jesus christ. the apostles never celebrated this so called “christian” “holy day”.
so why are christians doing this which is in direct violation of God’s word.

report abuse

Your Name

posted December 15, 2008 at 12:04 am

You are of course right. The Jewish calandar was different, the climate unprobible,and why would the citizens go “back” to be counted and taxes. Seems like the city they inhabited would want the count not to speak of the taxes.BUT IT DID HAPPEN, DISPITE THE PETTY,VULCHAR ATTITUDE. God made Adam for companionship with His creation. The creation with “free will” messed up. Sin and God are like oil and water. when mixxed they refuse to combine. Even disdaining each other at touching.God made the provision, the remedy. Men-folk can’t possible understand the bound love for her child. But there again, GOD the father so loved what He had created…mankind…that he gave His ONLY SON(the one that was there in the beginning(the Word), for the brutality of mankind-not necessarily the Jews, (they were only His People), that WHO-SO-EVER believed by faith- BELIEVE- in Him would live eternallly. So Presidents Day is grouped together,celebrated on one day (not the day) to remember that this child, given made God Ache just to give. Jesus is a gift from God, the beginning and birth for our hope for salvation.If He had’nt been given, He would’nt have laid down his life to offer the final sacrifice, the blood of the Lamb of God. Now I am allowed to run to the Mercy SEAT because he owns me, His sheep know His Voice. What does it matter what day we celebrate, but that we set aside all earthly things,and with our hearts as offering, worship each day now the infant King-HIS LOVE IS BORN THIS NIGHT.

report abuse

Your Name

posted December 15, 2008 at 8:45 am

I love the Lord with all my heart, and I try never to lean to my own understanding. I respect the day that was given to observe the birth our our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, what does the Bible say? The Word of God to said to remember His death, not His birth. We are told to remember His death through communion: We observe Communion because the Lord told us to. We are to obey His commands: And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24 (NIV) In observing Communion we are remembering Christ and all that He has done for us in his life, death and resurrection: And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24 (NIV) When observing Communion we take time to examine ourselves: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 1 Corinthians 11:28 (NIV) In observing Communion we are proclaiming His death until He comes. It is, then, a statement of faith: For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26 (NIV) When we observe Communion we show our participation in the body of Christ. His life becomes our life and we become members of each other: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (NIV)
(Best spoken by About.comChristianity)
Christ death was the most important event throughout Christianity.
Jesus died that we might live, that’s what He wants us to NEVER forget. If we do as the Word of God says, we can never go wrong. Peace and Blessings

report abuse

Rev Michael Bresciani

posted December 20, 2008 at 9:20 am

Thanks for a wonderful article on the term “Merry Christmas.” I am including a recent article I wrote on the meaning of Christmas. Something I learned about 38 years ago in seminary.
Atheists in Washington State Provide a True Meaning of Christmas Story
The anti-religious placard placed in the State Capital in Washington State along side a Christmas tree and a manger scene have inadvertently served to point out the true meaning of Christmas. How is that so?
The Freedom from Religion Foundation based in Madison Wisconsin placed a placard next to the manger scene in the Washington State Capital in early December 2008 that has a clearly anti-Christian message. In part it says “There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Each year America is inundated with “true meaning of Christmas” specials on the television and in films and books. As the commercial aspect of Christmas swells each year like a behemoth on growth hormones these specials mean less and less year by year. Close behind the “true meaning of Christmas” crowd comes the atheists with their question of “why are you wasting your time?”
It is said that the minute you try to consciously become different than everyone else that effort makes you just the same. It is this reasoning that causes many Americans to see the atheistic movement as just another religion. The fervor with which the atheists are now actively attacking religion today certainly lends credence to the adage. Atheists who actually confront religious people or displays can be thought of as evangelists for their cause. Looks religious to me!
It is where the atheists don’t put up signs and carry on protests that points to the true meaning of Christmas. Although un-intended their conspicuous absence in the commercial side of the advent speaks voluminously to the real meaning of Christmas. Let’s see.
Of the millions of television ads about the “perfect gift” no one has ever seen an ad on the box about not buying a gift for anyone in the “natural” world. Would the advertisers make such a commercial for the atheists? The answer to that may be dependant on the merchants who make between one quarter and one third of their annual income during the Christmas season. No, would be the safest answer to this question.
Would the cash cow fed by Christmas television specials and films be willing to produce a major movie or TV special on why we should all stay home on Christmas without family and friends and enjoy the “natural” world around us? Even atheists may not want to be called “Scrooge” by the public or the Grinch. It would be easier to scale Mt Everest than to climb that mountain of public disdain. Obviously atheists don’t go there.
Are the atheist found at the uncountable office parties around the nation and the globe with pamphlets explaining the “natural” world and their Godless views? Do they offer an alternative gathering where there are no gifts, decorations or mention of Christmas? Who and about how many would attend these gatherings? During the Christmas season attendance may be just ever so slightly above zero.
Would the atheists be willing to parade carrying their anti-Christmas placards in front of say Neiman Marcus or Macy’s stores? How long would they be welcomed by those businesses if they did?
Most atheistic groups only show up to protest religious scenes like the manger or the Star of Bethlehem which indicates that even they know the true meaning of Christmas. They know it isn’t about gifts, parties or commercial activity. It is and always will be about a babe in the manger who was sent to die for the sins of the world.
An old seminary professor once told me that not even the babe in the manger is the best picture of the true meaning of Christmas. He said that to truly understand Christmas or the incarnation you had to ponder something far more wonderful than a babe in the manger which is; God in a baby.
When this universally important fact is understood something begins to happen in a man or a woman that is the exact opposite of the message placed in the Washington Capital building. Instead of being but a “myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds” it becomes the “truth that softens the heart and frees the mind.”
The Angel Gabriel that appeared to the prophet Daniel over seven hundred years before the birth of Christ came to Mary the mother of Jesus and said “…behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
Although she was a holy women who loved God and was dedicated to serving him she could hardly understand the message she was given. But when her child grew and certain men were chosen to walk with him for three years and witness the dead being raised and the blind given sight and much more then it became easier to see what Mary was told. The greatest explanation of the incarnation and the manger scene was later penned by the Apostle Paul in this single statement.
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself …” (2 Corinthians 5:19) After this saying there remains only one thing left to say and that is…Merry Christmas

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

The Last Text Message
Today is my last day with Beliefnet, and my last day as the author of this blog. The Text Messages archives will remain live at this location, but posting will cease. If that sounds gloomy, it's an accurate reflection of my mind this ...

posted 3:47:12pm Feb. 04, 2009 | read full post »

Quitting Church: A Q&A with Julia Duin
Why do people stop going to church? This big question is the subject of Julia Duin's small book, Quitting Church: Why teh Faithful are Fleeing and What To Do About It. Duin is not a disinterested observer of the phenomenon of church-dropping; ...

posted 4:03:51pm Feb. 03, 2009 | read full post »

Rob Stennett vs. Marilynne Robinson
I'm overjoyed that my good friend Rob Stennett has won the Award of Merit from Christianity Today for his novel The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher. (Here's CT's review of the book.) Stennett's hilarious book is about a real estate agent who ...

posted 2:36:44pm Jan. 30, 2009 | read full post »

What is spiritual restoration?
Slate asked for an essay on Ted Haggard's spiritual restoration. I'm okay with what I came up with for now, but the more I think about it, the more I think we need better thinking on what restoration looks like for very public, outspoken, ...

posted 9:00:56am Jan. 29, 2009 | read full post »

It's Not TV; it's Ted TV
A blog might not be the best medium for an essay like this. But I want to offer some more considered thoughts on Ted Haggard and his HBO documentary; I hope this performs some kind of service in a story that I hope will end--in its public ...

posted 3:57:44am Jan. 28, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.