In our every day life we are faced with symbols that tell us something without spelling out the complete word or concept. For example: $ or @ or % or &. We know immediately what they mean. What about St. or Ave. or P.O. or P.T.A, or btw or LOL? Go to a directory of governmental agencies and you find an alphabet soup-jumble of symbols that are merely forms of abbreviations for their titles.
Sometimes we use foreign letters in our abbreviations. They have special meaning; sometimes they are taken from Greek or Latin. In math we use π or pi, a Greek letter like our letter p. What does it mean or stand for? π = 3.1416. Draw a circle; then draw a straight line through the center. Measure the length of the line or diameter and multiply it by 3.1416 to get the distance around the circle. Simply saying π is easier than π = 3.1416.
During this Advent Season as we approach Christmas, ads and cards will use Xmas in their pitches or greetings. The first letter in Xmas is not really the English letter X, but the Greek letter Chi or X like our letters ch. When we see Xmas it is important to remember X or Chi is the abbreviation for CHRIST or Christos in Greek that begins with the letter Chi. Members of the early church were persecuted for their beliefs so they used the letter Chi as a secret symbol to identify themselves to fellow Christians. The letter X became a look-alike sign of the cross.
What about the other letters MAS? The word mass means “a feast day, festival, or time of celebration.” Connecting the noun form of mass to the end of another word creates a new concept. For example: candlemas = feast of candles; Michaelmas = feast of Michael; Christmas = festival of Christ.
Remember you learned in math, when you had a problem and you did not know the answer, you had a way of finding it out? For example: 2 + 2 = x. Here the x means the unknown factor indicating the question what. The same thing happens sometimes when we forget why or what we are celebrating; the “festival of the unknown or x.”
Or when I go to buy a new suit of clothes I look for a 44 XL. What does this mean besides I grew too much? The X here means “extra” and the L means “long.” Too often this is the way we define or understand Xmas–“the festival of extras that lasts too long!”
Many things are extra to Christmas: trees, presents, decorations, parades, lights, cards, dinners, parties, fun, vacation from school. In and of themselves they are pleasant, important, enjoyable–but they are just extras. They do not show us the real meaning of Christmas.
Recently during the run-up to Christmas increased voices were heard on behalf of taking all references to Christmas out of our growing multicultural secular world. Other voices countered with the much older “Let’s put Christ back in Christ.” And the secular/religious cultural wars were on.
Some were concerned about using Xmas probably because they thought only in terms of X meaning the unknown factor or as standing for the many extras that we have added to our Christmas celebration. But isn’t there more to Xmas than this?
In Latin the word mas means to send. Put all we have said together into Xmas and you get a “time of celebrating Christ’s being sent into the world.” God’s view: a time of sending; our view: a time of Christ’s coming to us.
For those who know what X means, Xmas will always be the identifying symbol of their faith. Christ is not unknown nor something extra but was sent, was born and is the center of their Christian life.
Putting X in Xmas is not just a celebration of a birthday of some unknown or extra somebody born some 2000 years ago. For the Christian, X is the living symbol for Christ, the known qualifying, redeeming, saving factor at the center of one’s life.
Putting X in Xmas is celebration of “For unto us is born this day in the City of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)