So what do you say? How do you respond to the holiday greetings that are going around these days? We are in the final days of Hannukah, and it would be appropriate to greet one another with some acknowledgement of that fact. It is an important time for our Jewish sisters and brothers. But I’m not always sure who might be Jewish. So there is some hesitancy in how to say ‘hello’ this time of year.

Living here in the Bible Belt, I rarely hesitate to say ‘Merry Christmas’ because the odds are good that the person on the other end will respond in kind. I am certainly not one who thinks that any particular holiday greeting must have precedence over another. My faith is not so insistent. This is not a battle that will ‘win the war,’ which seems to be how some people are approaching it.

If I know others have a definite religious or spiritual bent, then I’m likely to make note of that and greet them accordingly. It is called ‘courtesy’ or ‘manners,’ and it does not mean that one is forsaking their faith to address someone with deference to the recipients’ own beliefs.

Greetings. It’s a word that we don’t use through much of the year. But at this time during the Holidays it seems to take on more weight. How we start the conversation feels at times like it matters more than what we actually talk about. The initial phrase has more impact on us than a casual ‘hello.’ The tone is decidedly different in December.

Maybe we got this way because of greeting cards. We look for perfect cards that evoke the right amount of care and sentimentality. We may want something that is overtly religious or we may shoot for a more generic greeting of good will. We find some that are filled with flowery poetry (of varying degrees of quality), and others that simply express our appreciation. We may shoot for laughter instead. We will see images of trees and birds and snow and the Christ child in the manger. We may find greetings from furry little woodland creatures. We might see pictures of families and their smiling growing children. We will see some that include the family pet. We will open colored envelopes that have been hand-addressed and signed as expressions of friendship and love. Cards offer the chance to greet one another in a more intentional way. We do not send greeting cards that just say ‘Hi.’

It might be that there is something about the season that reminds us that we are more valuable creatures than we usually think ourselves to be. These days are filled with stories of miracles and deep meaning. We understand that others walking around us might be of much more worth than we usually think. We should greet one another with respect and dignity. From the Christian perspective, if God was willing to go to such lengths as to enter this life and be incarnate in a human body like ours, then every human has the potential to bear the divine. Every person is of infinite worth.

That was the chord that struck Thomas Merton as he stood at 4th and Walnut in Louisville on March 18, 1958. In what is sometimes called his epiphany, Merton was overwhelmed with love for the crowd hustling this way and that. He realized he loved each one and that they were “all walking around shining like the sun.” Their immense worth and value was hidden to them in the humdrum working of the world. God became human and we can only marvel at such news. It is majestic and mystical and marvelous.

When I was on mission this past summer I was going to be cooking and serving a large group of young people. I was mindful that we needed to work together and get to know one another in short order. I made sure to ask each person’s name, and then repeat it, and then try to use it an a sentence immediately. By breakfast the second day I had learned everyone’s name and I asked pointedly how each one was doing. It made a powerful connection. Several of the group wrote me notes to thank me for learning their names and checking on them in such a caring way. It was not much effort—more a matter of paying attention. It was greeting each one with all the grace that I could offer.

Some greetings do not even intend to convey great significance. I had a short note that came my way a few days ago. It was only a few sentences and there was no formal greeting involved, but it filled me with a sense of joy. It is a valued connection and any expression that reminds me of that is appreciated. I am quite sure that the sender was not aware of the
impression it made, but even a few words can have a powerful impact. Even a greeting that includes nothing about the season or greater meaning can be powerful.

Perhaps that is why greetings take on such import in this time. We become more mindful for a little while about how we address each other and the fact that our words and expressions can affect others in positive ways. We greet one another in ways that are more intentional about setting a framework for communication that reminds us that all of us are valuable. We remember that we are complex people who have beliefs and behaviors and traditions that are vital to us. We remember that we are each unique as well.

So, gentle reader, I greet you during this time remembering that you are a person of infinite worth and value; you are a sister or brother with spirit and vitality; you are someone who has added light and life to my own. Thank you for that. May these holidays be filled with blessings and joy for each of you.

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