Christian Confession: I Like Santa
I have been working for the better part of my professional career in distinctively Christian organizations. I’ll call it vocational ministry. In my jobs I’ve enjoyed working with gracious, unselfish people. My jobs have been overwhelmingly positive, but not without some stumbles and quirks.
Here and there I’ve seen a few controversies emerge from “differences of opinion.” There are some big things to get worked up about, e.g., deity of Jesus, authority of Scripture, one omniscient God, and other major tenets of the Christian faith. – – – Schisms, Diets, Councils, and Wars have famous names because of the big controversies.
There are other things. In my experience, there have been plenty of other things. I can tell you stories that would make you laugh and stories that you cause you to drop your chin and shake your head. (Like the family that left a church because the pastor used The Wizard of Oz as an analogy in his sermon.) I’ve got more, but that’s another day.
Tis the season to poke-a-stick at Santa Claus. For some the jolly fat man is completely innocuous, like Garfield the cat or Dennis the Menace, while for others he has become a cultural annoyance. And then there are the haters. “We don’t allow any pictures of Santa Claus in our building,” stated one Christian friend, and he said it with conviction and shoulders squared against such worldliness. “We don’t believe in Santa Claus!?!” You’ve heard it, and you may have heard it from me somewhere in the past. But I’ve flop-flopped on the issue.
That Santa guy, what’s he doing on our billboards and cards? He is a worldly icon and usurper of proper attention to this holy season. I overheard this one Sunday, “Can you believe she wore that Santa Claus vest to church?” Scandalous! “He’s make-believe!” “He’s not the meaning of Christmas!” “Throw the bum out!!!”
Have you ever heard of the Bishop of Myra? You would love this guy.
The Bishop of Myra became famous for living the virtues of compassion and benevolence. He was spirited in his actions to defend the Christian faith and as a doer of the Word.
His parents were quite wealthy and taught him the Lordship of Jesus. They died of in an epidemic when he was young and left him two legacies: 1) A passion for the Christian faith; 2) a lots of money. This man invested his entire inheritance in the Kingdom of God, using it to help the poor, comfort the sick, and alleviate
suffering. He took Jesus Christ very seriously and dedicated his life to follow the Jesus way. He was relatively young when he became a bishop and he became quite famous for his acts of kindness. Bishop Nicholas was quite a guy!
There are wonderful stories about his generosity and I encourage you to search the good bishop and find your own favorite story. Here is my favorite:
“Jolly” St. Nicholas
My favorite story comes a famous church doctrinal meeting, the Council of Nicaea. The church fathers were confronting false teachings about the deity of Jesus. In 325AD, an Egyptian bishop, Arius was asserting that Christ was a god-like being, but not deity and not equal with the Father. Arius was discounting the idea of virgin birth and miraculous conception. He was undermining all the wonder that we celebrate and worship at Christmas. Nicholas, our well known bishop from Turkey sat and listened . . . for a while. Finally, the much respected Bishop of Mrya decided he could listen to this degradation of Christ no longer. As Arius continued his dissertation and ‘re-make’ of the nature of Jesus, the bishop of Myra snapped. Bishop Nicholas jumped to his feet and punched Arius in the face!
Thankfully, it is not his righteous-roundhouse, but his famous reputation for giving gifts, hope, and comfort to others that he became famous. He would be canonized by the church and is known today as Saint Nicholas. And though the image of him has certainly changed over the years, I get a kick knowing his association with the holiday where we celebrate the virgin birth. St. Nicholas, celebrated for his compassion, believed that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and he took umbrage with church folks who said otherwise.
The reason I like Santa Claus is that the real history of this beloved saint allows us to extend and deepen our discussion about Jesus Christ.
Born of the Virgin Mary
The Apostles’ Creed states: He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Larry King, the CNN talk show host, was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all of history. He said, “Jesus Christ.” The questioner said, “And what would you like to ask Him?’” King replied, “I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me’.”
How important is it that we affirm Jesus’ miraculous conception? It’s essential! But why? Why did the apostles and early church fathers insist on including it in the Creed? Why was it such an important doctrine to affirm?
Centuries before his birth, the prophet Isaiah writes, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call His name Emmanuel.” (Is. 7:14)
John MacArthur, Jr. writes, “The virgin birth is an underlying assumption of everything the Bible says about Jesus. To throw out the virgin birth is to reject Christ’s deity, the accuracy and authority of Scripture, and the heart of the Christian faith. No issue is more important than the virgin birth to our understanding of who Jesus is. If we deny Jesus is God, we have denied the very essence of Christianity.”
Think again of the creation of the world. “The spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters and God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Genesis 1:2-3 This spirit of God, his creative wonder, his Word will bring Light again. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1 See the Light? “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John 1:4.
This Word of Life (I John 1:1) has united with us. God, the Holy Spirit, comes to Mary and enacts those words from Genesis again, “Let there be light.” And in Mary’s womb the pre-existent Jesus become flesh. What a beautiful miracle!
To affirm the virgin birth is to affirm that God in Christ takes for himself a human nature and, in doing so, unites to his divine person both a divine and human nature. This dramatic revelation discloses that God in Christ enters into the fullness of human experience, but not only this, opens up for humanity the possibility of sharing his own divine life.
When I think of St. Nick, I think of the bishop who was thrown in prison for punching a church leader who denied the miracle of Christmas, the virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ. You can bet my grandkids are going to know exactly who St. Nicholas really is. They’ll never view the caricature the same was again (not if I can help it).