By Jerome Wildeberg
Given the time of year that it is, you have probably seen a sign or bumper sticker or car magnet urging you to “keep Christ in Christmas.”
If you are Catholic, someone may have told you how important it is to “keep Mass in Christmas.”
Both of those are very good ideas.
But I would like to share with you another aspect of the holiday, by means of a bit of advice that you probably have not heard, namely: Keep X in Xmas.
Some people do not like the abbreviation “Xmas,” because when the word is written that way, it no longer contains the name of Christ. In reality, of course, the “X” in “Xmas” was not originally the Roman letter “Ex,” but the Greek letter “Chi.” It is a remnant of the ancient Chi-Rho monogram, an abbreviation of the word “Christ” formed of the first two letters of that name in Greek.
So, Christ is still there in “Xmas,” but he is hidden under the mysterious symbol “X.”
And what could be more appropriate for this holiday celebrating our Lord’s birth?
As it is written:
“Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself,
O God of Israel, the Savior.” (Isaiah 45:15)
On the first Christmas Day, God was hiding himself in human flesh—and the flesh of a baby at that! A baby is weak and needs protection and care, he does not protect others, or care for others. If you were in a dangerous situation and were told to expect a rescuer (a savior), you wouldn’t expect a helpless-looking savior like that.
Of course, a baby has the potential to grow up and become strong. And yet, the angels at Bethlehem did not wait for that, but said to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior.”—not a future savior or a potential savior, but a savior “this day,” here and now, even in his infant helplessness.
A paradox? Yes. But when God is astir, expect the unexpected.
That is why the symbol “X” is so appropriate. Think about what “X” means. In arithmetic, “x” means “multiply.” In algebra, “x” stands for an unknown quantity. And in general, “X” stands for the mysterious and unknown, especially when it is immensely powerful. Think, for example, of X-rays, the X Files, the X Factor, the X-Men, even Xbox: in all of these cases, “X” is the mark of the mysterious and powerful unknown.
God is the X Factor. He is the ultimate power, and the ultimate mystery. And he hides himself in the smallest and oddest places, becoming (for example) a baby, or a piece of bread. But from that small beginning, like the “x” in arithmetic, his influence begins to multiply, until it is an unstoppable force.
When our Lord was born, Judea was ruled by the Romans, the Herodians, and the high priests. Today, the Roman Empire is gone, the Herodians are gone, the Jewish Temple and its high priesthood are gone—but the Church started by that little baby is still here, going strong after more than two thousand years.
God is the X Factor. Once he starts moving, there is no telling what he will do. As Mr. Beaver said in Narnia, “He is not a tame lion,” and “he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”
Just as, in algebra, a small change in the value of “x” can radically change the value of all the other variables an equation, so one little speck of God can radically change a person’s whole life. And one changed life can change the world. As it is written, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” (I Corinthians 1:28.)
Saul the persecutor, multiplied by “X” (Acts 9:5), became the ex-persecutor, Paul the Apostle.
Through Paul’s words, the “X” of the Athenians, the Unknown God (Acts 17:23), brought down to crumbling ruins the whole multitude of known gods.
That mysterious Power is still at work today.
There is no room for him in the “inns” (the secular institutions) of this world. But if you make a manger for him in your heart, are you ready for what he might do there?
God is astir! Expect the unexpected!