“For we have observed God’s star at its rising and have come to pay God homage.” – Matthew 2:2b
In our evolving computer culture, digital communication often combines letters and small icons. Such are used as a form of cyber shorthand. They can describe a word, an emotion, and at times even a sentence. For example, “C” and “S” are used interchangeably for the word “see”. “U” and “Y” are used interchangeably for “you”. The shorthand “LMK” means “Let me know”. “ILY” means “I love you”.
Similar to an abbreviation, cyber shorthand may be used to save space and time, avoid repetition of long words and phrases, or convey a quick message.
But, long before computer culture, there was Christian culture. In early Christian life, symbols were used as a form of shorthand to denote places of worship and homes of the faithful. Images of fish and seas shells marked pathways for pilgrims as well as places of safety and care. One symbol we see each December and throughout the Christmas season is the “X.” Yes, we are getting close to Xmassing time.
Long before “X” marked the spot on a treasure map, or “X” suggested crossing something off a list, they symbol implied to early followers of Jesus that they were in the company of Christians. The “X”, when marked on a pole, carved into a stone, or even drawn in the soil along a dusty road, indicated that other Christians were nearby.
In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word Christos (Christ) begins with the letter X or chi. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is translated into our alphabet as an X. When we see the abbreviation Xmas, we see the English letter X. It is natural to see it as X. People literally say, “X”mas, not Christmas.
For early Christians, the X was both an important abbreviation, and a comfort. In our current cultural context, the use of the term Xmas has caused some discomfort. It might even prompt the question, “Why would someone take Christ out of Christmas?”
And yet, when we gain awareness of the meaning behind the symbol, we affirm what historians and archeologists have confirmed. The use of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus the Christ, God’s Son, our Savior. It is just the opposite. The combination of X along with the ‘mas’ (part of the Latin term referring to worship) became Xmas=Christ worship in the late 1800’s to celebrate Immanuel, God with us.
In December, as we celebrate the seasons of Advent and Xmas, Christ-mass, think about your home, the symbols and traditions that currently define your life and family practices. Explore the history and meaning of such. Spend time together with loved ones and friends, and share the stories of life and faith together.
Until we gather in worship and learning at Reformation, let us celebrate again that God IS with us and that X is coming again!
Peace, Deacon Beth
P.S. I look 4ward 2 Cing U @ worship on Sundays and at Xmas services at RLC