I just purchased a Christmas card that made me smile. On the outside it read “We wish you a merry Christmas”, on the inside, it says “It was our third wish though. The first two were for money and power.”
This is definitely the season for wishing.
At least ten times a day you’re going to hear “We wish you a merry Christmas”. Everywhere we turn, brightly colored adds and signs in stores boldly proclaim “Holiday Wishes”, and every television special will include at least one reference to “A Christmas Wish”.
Wishing is so much a part of our vernacular that the word rolls off out tongue countless times a day without us even giving a thought about what we mean. Of course as Christians we would say we don't really believe in wishing, so what then do we mean when we wish?
The word wish is not necessarily magical or mystical, in fact, it comes from an old German word that simply means to want. So you can easily see how wish has become such a common word for us. To wish is to want. We have all wished for more time, or wished we had more money, or wished we could go on a vacation... and even when we are on vacation we send postcards to our friends saying I wish you were here.
Beyond simply wanting, the dictionary adds a deeper meaning to wishing.
To wish means to feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; to want something that cannot or probably will not happen.
To wish goes beyond simply wanting. It conveys the idea of desperation or need. The idea is that the thing I am wishing for is not only strongly desired, but also difficult to obtain. Recognizing this, many ancient cultures developed traditions and rituals in an attempt to make their wishes come true. Many of us carry on those traditions today without even considering where they came from.
Wish upon a star. This concept was popularized in the 1940‘s Disney movie Pinnochio. It is still a mainstay of many Disney stories. The origin of this tradition is hard to nail down but many believe it comes from an ancient belief that shooting stars were evidence of celestial activity, that as the gods pulled back the heavens to observe humanity some stars fell through the gap into the earths atmosphere. Thus a shooting star was evidence that the gods were watching and was therefore an opportune time to express a wish.
Wishing well. This is a hugely popular superstition. Walk past any body of water, whether at a shopping mall or out in nature, and you are almost guaranteed to find that someone has tossed a few coins in it for luck. Again this tradition is hard to pin down but it likely comes from the pagan belief that water, especially clean water was inhabited by spirits or gods, and that by making an offering to the spirit you had a better chance of your wish being granted.
Birthday Candles. Birthday candles are an absolute staple of birthday celebrations for young and old alike, although after 2020 we may not return to blowing them out ever again. Making a wish and blowing out candles comes from the idea that as the smoke rises it carries your petition to heaven. While this is a pagan tradition, it reminds us of the incense in the old testament temple worship, which the bible says is representative of the prayers of the saints.
Wishbones. At this time of year we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is likely that your family will enjoy a turkey, and perhaps the kids will fight over the wishbone. In ancient cultures the chicken was thought to have spiritual powers. Chickens were used to divine the will of the gods. When the chicken died its bones were preserved because they were believed to still posses supernatural powers, which led to the practice of rubbing or holding the bones while making a wish. Hence the name, wishbone.
Today these practices seem harmless and fun, but these traditions are based in superstition and pagan religions, so we shouldn't take them seriously, nor should we teach our children to.
So do we need to stop wishing? Not necessarily. By definition to wish simply means to want. So if I wish you a merry Christmas, I’m simply expressing my desire that you have a merry Christmas. The problem comes when I invoke a tradition or superstition to try to add power or weight to my wish. For instance, I can wish I had more money, that is just expressing a desire, but if I wish upon a star that I had more money I am not just expressing my desire, I am invoking some spiritual power to try to fulfill my desire.
Offering someone best wishes is kind, sending someone best wishes is thoughtful, but if we really want to add some power and authority to our wishes we need to turn my wishes into prayers. If we're going to invoke any power to transform our wishes into reality it needs to be the God and creator of the universe - our heavenly Father. Now, in case you think I am suggesting God is the proverbial genie who grants wishes you should also read my other blog posts. Almighty God is not a wish-granting genie... but He is my heavenly father who, the Bible says, knows what I need before I even ask for it.
Wishing is wanting. But as the saying goes “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Just wishing, or wanting something is not enough. Wishing is not the same as asking. If you really want to see change in your world, stop wishing and start asking.
So... do I wish you a merry Christmas? Yes, yes I do, but more than, that my prayer for you is that the God of peace would make Himself known to you in a real a tangible way this Christmas season.