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!