It's an old word, one that comes down to us from the 14th Century but which has its meaning in an event that happened about 2000 years ago. If you are unfamiliar with the word "Nativity" as used by Christians, I hope that you will kindly read on. Take just a moment to read a very simple explanation of what Christians believe at Christmas. If nothing else, you will obtain a closer understanding of what it is that we are celebrating.
From the online Miriam-Webster dictionary we find this definition of "Nativity":
1: the process or circumstances of being born: birth; especially capitalized: the birth of Jesus
And, then, as dictionaries do, we read the origin of the word.
Middle English nativite, from Anglo-French nativité, from Medieval Latin nativitat-, nativitas, from Late Latin, birth, from Latin nativus
Over the years (my years, that is) my Christmas decorating has varied. But regardless of what other decorations I put up, I always love setting out a Nativity scene. One set is pictured at the top of my blog. The other is a small music box that I hope little visitors will pick up, turn the handle, and listen to the simple tune as they contemplate the figures that represent Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.
For us the word "Christmas" comes from Middle English Christemasse, and from Old English Cristes mæsse, literally, Christ's mass.
I suppose that is partly why non-believers sometimes prefer "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". Be that as it may...Christmas is a celebration of Christ.
I want to emphasize that the celebration is not simply the birth of a new baby for this is no ordinary baby. What we are celebrating is the arrival of the promised Savior, Emmanuel (God with us). The long-awaited Promised Messiah arrived on that not-so-quiet night in Bethlehem.
Why was it a not-so-quiet night? Luke 2:13-14 tells us that after the birth there was a host, a huge number, a large crowd, a Sky Full of Holy Angels shouting the good news and proclaiming, ""Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
God Himself (John 1:1-3) had come down into mankind to take on flesh to become one of us (John 1:14) and to live the righteous and perfectly sin-free life than we cannot.
And then! At the Cross, He carried out what I call the Grand Exchange. Our sins placed on Him. All of them. Imputed to Him as if they were His own! He died our penalty as if He had committed every one of those rotten, filthy, foul sins! (2 Corinthians 5:21) (Another useful word here is "propitiation" or "sacrifice". See 1 John 4:10)
But this is only half the exchange! The other half is that His Righteousness is put on (imputed) to those who are His. His Righteousness covers us! It covers us so thoroughly that when we stand before God on Judgment Day our Heavenly Father sees us Clean! Because we are clothed with Christ's Righteousness! (Even though we still live out our natural lifetime struggling against our old sin nature.)
Therefore, if you belong to Christ, consider yourself a New Creature. Our old "self" is done away with. We are new! (2 Cor 5:17).
This Christmas, when you see a Nativity set, stop and take a look. That little baby in a manger came purposely, with a plan from Eternity Past to reconcile God's people to Himself. (2 Cor 5:18)
And That's why Christmas is Merry! We have received Life! (John 5:24 and I John 5:20)