Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

This is the message that I preached on christmas Eve 2006. Based on a comparison of the Luke 2:1-20 passage with the New York Sun editorial.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Without a doubt, this is one of the all-time favourite stories in the Bible. Everyone comes to hear this story on Christmas Eve. And everyone has their favourite parts of the story. Some folks love the angels appearing to the shepherds. Some people are amazed by the holy family being put out to a barn. Some just love to recall what it all means. It is a good story. It’s a story of hope. It’s a story of love. It’s a story of joy and peace and salvation for all of humanity. Without question, it is THE story of the Christmas season. And it’s a story that needs to be told every year. It needs to be told every year because it changed the course of human history.
But there’s another Christmas story that is also familiar. It’s a story about a little girl and Santa Claus.
Now, I know that a lot of Christian folks don’t want to talk about Santa. And I also know that a lot of little children do want to talk about, and to Santa! But let’s hear that story first, and then we’ll see about the other stuff.
This story started with a letter sent to the New York Sun in 1897.
By Francis P. Church, first published in The New York Sun in 1897.
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Francis P. Church’s wrote the editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.” It was an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business. It later became the basis for the Christmas movie “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Santa Claus and Jesus. Two fellows who will forever be associated with Christmas. Two stories that come to define the season. I’d like to take those two stories and lay them side by side and compare them tonight. Maybe we can learn something new.

Well, first off both we have the birth of Jesus and the origin of Santa Claus.
There’s Santa, the giver of gifts. What is Santa’s origin? Although Santa has always been a big part of the Christmas celebration, the modern image of Santa didn’t develop until well into the 19th century: Santa Claus was an evolutionary creation, born by the fusion of two religious characters, St. Nicholas from the Netherlands and Christkindl from Germany.During the 17th and 18th centuries, children in the Netherlands put their shoes by the fireplace for Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicholas), a bishop who lived in the 4th century and was known for bringing gifts to the poor. According to the Dutch tradition, every 5th of December Sinter Klaas would fly from rooftop to rooftop on his white horse dropping sweets down the chimney into the children's shoes. In Germany the similar tradition of the Christkindl (Christ Child) was celebrated on the 25th of December.The story of Sinter Klaas was brought to New York by Dutch settlers in north America, It was there that Sinter Klaas' name changed into "Santa Claus".
In the 1860s German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast developed the modern image of Santa as our fat, jolly man with a white beard. Some years later, in the 1930s, Scandinavian-American artist Haddon Sundblom painted a Santa Claus dressed in a red suit for a Coca-Cola Christmas advertisement. From there on, the modern image of Santa Claus started to spread across the world.
We’ve just heard the Jesus story in the scripture from Luke. We know that Jesus is the Son of God. We understand that he came to live with us as a child And that he came to save the world.
Jesus was the greatest gift ever given to anyone. A gift without price and beyond measure.
So we have the greatest gift and the giver of gifts.

Let’s make a second comparison. Because we have to ask about the basic nature of these two.
Well, Santa Claus is a symbol, isn’t he? He’s a symbol of the Christmas season. But he’s also a symbol of joy to children.
You know, it used to be that I wasn’t too fond of Santa Claus. I thought that Santa detracted from what Christmas was really all about, Jesus’ birth. That was, until I had an opportunity to be Santa Claus one year. (Tell Voorhees Pediatric story. And if you're reading this and have not ever heard me tell that story, ask.) Now if there’s not something of God in that kind of joy, then I just don’t know God.
What about the nature of Jesus? What kind of gift was Jesus? Jesus was the gift of peace, hope, comfort and salvation. Jesus would bring hope to all of humanity. He would offer eternity to those seeking salvation. He would comfort the afflicted. He would heal the sick and cure the infirm. Without Jesus, who knows what the world would really be like right now. His presence in the world has had a greater impact than any figure ever, even Santa Claus.

Let’s make another comparison.
Jesus and Santa Claus have both been the target of people who do not believe.
There are some people even here tonight, who do not believe in Santa Claus. To those who would not believe in Santa Claus I offer you the words of Francis Church. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!
How dreary indeed! Just think of all the joy that might be lost in this season without a Santa Claus. Perish the thought!
And believe it or not, there are people who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Oh sure, they’ll admit that Jesus existed. They’ll say that he was a historic figure, even an important figure. But, they’ll say, he’s not really God in the flesh. He’s not really the Son of God. He didn’t really rise from the grave and he’s not the savior of the world?
Really? Not the son of God? Not God in the flesh? Didn’t rise from the grave? Would a movement, an entire faith last for two thousand years if it were based on a fraud? Would those disciples have been so excited about sharing the Gospel of Jesus, if they had not really seen him in the flesh after he was crucified? Would they have been willing to be martyred and murdered for their beliefs if they knew that their beliefs were not true?
I’d call that highly unlikely.
Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And yes Christianity, Jesus is a whole lot more than a historical figure. He’s a real savior. He’s as real right now as the person sitting next to you this evening.

Which brings me to my last comparison this evening.
Jesus is a real savior. Santa Claus is really part of what Christmas means.
Christmas without Santa Claus just wouldn’t be Christmas as we understand it. Think of the wonder in a child’s eye at seeing that jolly fat man in the mall. Think of the childlike faith it takes to believe that someone could cover the whole world in just one night. That he could manufacture and deliver all those toys. That he could ride that sleigh pulled by those reindeer. And that he could know just exactly who was naughty and who was nice in the whole world.
It’s the kind of childlike faith it would take to believe that God would appear to us as a child.
It’s the kind of childlike faith it would take to believe things we’ve never seen.
Maybe we can learn something from how our children believe in Santa. Isn’t that how we need to believe in Jesus?
And you know, Jesus is the real deal. He’s a real savior. As proof I’d suggest a book for you this evening. It’s written by a fellow named Lee Strobel, an investigative reporter. It’s called, “The case for Christmas.” I’d like to share just a bit of Strobel’s conclusion with you as a close to tonight’s message. (Read from Strobel, The Case for Christmas, pp. 90-91)
Christmas is not just a yearly event folks.
It’s a time for us to consider this child and what his presence in our world means.
What does he mean to you?
How will you respond to this great gift?
He’s yours to take, free of charge.
Are you ready?
Will you respond?

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

What with all that goes into preparing for Christmas in two churches, It's been a while since I posted a blog. But I would be remiss if I didn't wish my readers and my churches a Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.

I'm looking forward to a new series of sermons that I'm starting on January 7th. I'll be looking into some of the "Tough Questions" that people ask about God and about faith. I hope that if you don't currently attend the Quinton or Hancock's Bridge church that you might come out for this series. Grace and Peace!


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Full of Holes or Holy?

This is a message preached at Delnco Camp in June and adapted for a combined worship service at Hancock's Bridge on September 24, 2006. It's based on NLT John 17:1-26 and speaks about holiness and "going on to perfection."

This is one big hunk of Scripture. Let’s pray for illumination. (Prayer of Illumination)
There’s a song that came out a few years back. It’s a song by a band called Plumb and it’s titled “God Shaped Hole.” The basic premise of the song is that we all have a God shaped hole in our souls. It’s a hole that only God can fill. Unfortunately, we do with this hole what we tend to do with lots of things in our lives. We try to fill it with things that don’t fit. Things like relationships, or sex, or alcohol, or food, or drugs. Obviously, these things don’t satisfy because only God will fill that hole the right way.
We’re all full of holes. In fact, if you were to pile up our hearts and souls, it’d look like a Swiss cheese!
Now, knowing that, I want to ask you all a question this morning. Is anyone here perfect?Anybody willing to say that they’ve got it all together and don’t need anyone or anything else?No? Good.
Perfection is a tough thing to come by, isn’t it? There’s a word in today’s Scripture passage that I want you to focus on. One word that’s going to bring our worship this morning together. One word that epitomizes everything that Christians ought to be about. Key word – holy. Holiness is something that Jesus prayed we would receive. He said, “They are not part of this world any more than I am. Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth.”
Two points here. But they’re connected points. First, Jesus says we’re not part of this world. We’re different from everybody else. And he says we’re holy. But what is it to be holy?
Well, in Biblical times, something was considered holy when it was set aside for a specific use.
So, for instance the chalice for communion was set apart for the Communion element. It was a holy object. In the temple in Jerusalem, the mercy seat of God was in a place called the holy of holies. It was a place so set apart that only the priests could go in. And when they did, they had to have a rope tied around their waist in case they died from being in the presence of God, they could be pulled back out.
Holiness means being set apart, different, special. Very much like being from a different place, isn’t it? To be holy, to be different, to be set apart, that’s what we’re talking about this morning.
And we have a specific purpose if we are holy. We are meant for something special if we are holy. Our purpose is to call the whole world to repentance in Christ. We’re God’s messengers here. We’re not from here though. Our home is with God.
But we’ve got a problem. Because there’s something holding us back from doing what we ought to do. Personal Holiness. The question is: Have we been set aside? Can we really believe ourselves to be holy?
I think that that’s difficult for all of us. Especially when we allow the world to tell us what to think and say and do. Because, let’s face it folks, the world is going to lead you astray. The secular world would like nothing better than to see you or any Christian fail or fall.
Look at the news coverage that the church gets nowadays. Is it ever good? Rarely. It’s usually about priests molesting children or a church burning down or a treasurer running off with the church’s money. It’s never about any of the good things that churches and Christian organizations do. And we all know that our churches do good. We saw some of it this morning on the presentation about the mission trip.
Trust me on this, the world out there despises the church and is indifferent to Christians. You see, the world would love to see that you’re something less than holy.
Unfortunately for us, we know ourselves to be something less than completely holy. Every last one of us here is a work in progress. God’s not finished with any of us yet, but that’s what the world expects. If you’re Christian, you’re perfect. Except that we’re not perfect.
Flora Wilson, do you have it all together? Are you completely holy and sanctified?
Mike Fagan?
Janet McKee?
Even your pastor, or any of your previous pastors! If you all think that we’ve got this Christianity/holiness/personal sanctification thing down, think again. I’m no less a work in progress than anyone else here today. All I’ve got is a little more concentrated study and a degree in a frame on the wall. We all need work toward being the holy people that God calls us to be. All of us.
We’re all a little broken. We’re all in need of updates and repairs and fixes. Let me show you what I mean with a movie clip. I want you to notice the condition of the majority of people in this clip.
(Roll clip from Robots Scene 16 on DVD)
Now think about it. We’re all a lot like those robots aren’t we? We are eternally broken. We’re always in need of repairs. We’re always looking to scrounge something from other people. A though or an idea or an affirmation. Whatever we can get.
But there’s a big difference when we need repaired. We have a slightly different mechanic. Our Rodney is a fella named Jesus. And Jesus can fix any problem that we have. We simply have to bring it to him. We have to recognize how broken we are and how broken we continue to be. And we have to bring that brokenness back to the only mechanic that can fix us.
Now, going to church is a good start. Going to Sunday School or youth group is a good start. Going on a mission trip is a good start. But they’re just the beginning.
Because if you stop there, if you delude yourself into thinking like other people, that you can just jump into this Christian thing and you’re done, you’re wrong. And we all know people who think that they’re good because they go to church. Right? We all know somebody who thinks that they’re a good person so God will see that and they’ll be OK in the end. I’m sorry to tell you, and you can tell them, they’re WRONG!
The fact of the matter is that going to church makes you a Christian about as much as going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger!
Going to Sunday school makes you holy about as much as sitting in your garage makes you a car.
Even mission trips aren’t immune. Because going on a mission trip makes you sanctified about as much as sitting in the Alloway Creek makes you a fish.
They’re all good starts, but they’re only starts! I’ve talked before about growing in your faith, I said that we’ve all got to grow somewhere somehow. Well, when that growth is directed toward becoming a better disciple of Jesus Christ, that’s when that growth is something called sanctification. John Wesley called it sanctifying grace. It is the ongoing process of becoming more and more like God more and more in the mold of Jesus every day. Wesley taught that we should all be going on to perfection. He said that sanctifying grace was the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives making us more Christ-like moment to moment.
The Spirit works in our lives like a Christian conscience. Convicting us when we do wrong. Convincing us of the truth of Scripture. And growing us to be the fully realized people God calls us to be.
But you’re only going to experience the work of the Spirit as much as you’ll allow the Spirit to work. Because you can quash the spirit. You can consciously prevent the Spirit from working in your life.
You’ve got to focus. You’ve got to want to grow in the right direction. I’m gonna say some things that’re gonna make you a little uncomfortable. Because if you want to grow in God’s grace you’ve got to turn off the porn sites on your computer. If you really want to experience the work of the Spirit, You’ve got to decide not to make a mean comment about that girls outfit.
You’ve got to turn the negative stuff around. You’ve got to get into God’s word on a daily basis. You’ve got to get into a small group of people who you can count on to keep you accountable to your spiritual growth. And you’ve got to focus on the good things, the things of God.
You know, in his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote the following words: Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Think on these things!
But wait, because there’s more.
Peter wrote the following in his first letter to the church: 1 Peter 3:11-15 Turn away from evil and do good. Work hard at living in peace with others. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil." Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don't be afraid and don't worry. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.
Turn away from evil and do good. Work hard to live at peace with others. Who will want to hurt you if you are a person who does good? These are pretty good words to live by.
It’s a challenge for us to try to live holier lives. We’ve all got a ways to go. We’re all learning because God’s still teaching.
What are you going to do about it? I’d like to offer all of us a real tangible way to grow in grace.
Remember when I talked about how you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time) This morning, I want us all to take one bite, or one step toward being conscious about our spiritual walk.Some of the young folk are going to be passing out paper and pens. I want you to take a minute or two to think about what you can do today, tomorrow, this week to move closer to God.
I’m going to tell you what I’m writing so you understand what I’m looking for. I’ve decided that I need a more focused schedule for my walk. I am making a covenant with God to be here at HB on Tuesdays at 7AM and at Quinton on Wednesdays at 7AM. I will be in prayer for these churches. I will read the Bible. And I invite anyone to join me.
Write down something like that for yourself. Write down whatever it is that you will do.
When you’re done, fold the sheet in half and bring it up with your morning offering. Drop your commitment sheet and your offering in the plate that corresponds to your church. I’m going to ask Lois to play some soft music as we ruminate and make our commitments.

What can we do?

It's come to my attention recently that there is some inspiration in the churches to "do something." My question is, "What would you like to do?"

So...what would you like to do? What can your church, Quinton or Hancock's Bridge do for you. What can we do with you? How can your church be a resource for you to be in ministry to all the world? You can leave me feedback here on this site or drop me an email at or write me a note or see on Sunday morning. Hope to hear from all of you asap.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I know, I know...

It's been almost a year since I last posted to this blog. It's been eventful, hectic, and a busy year. I'm hoping to get back on track in the next week or two. Will start to post regularly after that...I hope. God bless!