When did Father Christmas make his debut?
Christmas is a celebration that is steeped in both Christian and pagan traditions. Time has fused them together until there is no line of demarcation. Should a Christian try to draw battle lines, they are heavily laden with guilt. They are told that Christianity is only a kill-joy, depriving children of the wonder and fantasy of Christmas.
So, the question arises, why try to separate the Christian and the pagan? What is wrong with this marriage of convenience? Then there is the question of culture? To what extent does a Christian adopt national culture as opposed to the culture of the Kingdom? But then, what is national culture when Christmas is deeply rooted in European culture? Who then can be eulogised as the Christmas Man? Santa Claus, saint Nicholas, Father Christmas or Jesus Christ.
In the fourth century, Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, Asia Minor. It is believed that many of his long voyages across the sea, he calmed and stilled several storms, earning the title of Patron Saint of Sailors. Legend says he saved three maidens from prostitution by providing them with a dowry, so they were able to marry well. He then became Patron Saint of Maidens. Another legend concerning Saint Nicholas is told of how he raised three boys from the dead. He is best known for his kindness to poor children of the time.
Todays Father Christmas has become the alto-ego of Saint Nicholas, and champions the poor and distributes gifts and largess. While much good is done in the name of Father Christmas, his power is vicarious. Parents are prepared to borrow large sums of money to buy their children miracles in the name of Father Christmas. Nearly everyone during the Christmas period gives gifts in the name of an alto-ego. Why not give gifts openly in the name of Jesus Christ?
Truth is always stranger than fiction. The strange truth is that God sent a Christmas Man. A man who would put Christmas into the heart of man forever. So, Christmas could be experienced every day by everyone. The poor would have a champion; miracles would happen, women would have a provider, and the dead could be raised.
This Man began life as a babe in a dirty manger, wrapped in bandages or perhaps even rags. This Man draws no crowd, no tinsel is erected to welcome him. Just a few shepherds called at the stable and several magi surreptitiously brought three gifts. Only the heavens burst open to reveal choirs of angels singing undreamt of melodies of praise. Brilliant pure light streamed from the sky.
This Christmas Man became a death trap for a generation of baby boys, as a power-hungry Roman Emperor sought to destroy him. The nation of Israel was in mourning rather than rejoicing. Where was the spirit of love, joy, peace and good will, that was to follow this child? No Christmas Pageant here, only a pageant of death as hundreds of funeral biers wound their way to the cemetery.
This poverty-stricken child bore the names of Emmanuel, God with us and Jesus, He shall save his people. Incredible names, hinting at his origins and calling; his responsibilities and power.
This God with us; this Saver of his people, Jesus Christ, is God’s gift to humanity. God presented his precious Son to humanity stripped of fame, $200.00-dollar Italian suits, and Hilton Hotels, so mankind could see the reality of Jesus. There could be no pretence. People cannot bear the plain unadulterated truth. We must always seek the fantasy, adorning truth and reality with pretence, so missing the freedom that truth brings.
Jesus is truth, yet he has been made a fantasy man. Father Christmas, the fantasy man is given the position of truth. There is a small cathedral outside of Bethlehem that marks the birth place of Jesus. Behind the alter in the church is a cave lit with silver lamps. You can enter and admire the ancient building. The cave can be entered and a star embedded into the floor to mark the birth place of Jesus. This reverence to the place of birth rather than the Man just bears out the importance we place on fantasy rather than truth.
The miracle that Jesus does far outweighs anything that Saint Nicholas or his alto-ego can do. As for maidens in distress, Jesus offers not a dowry for marriage but a new heart, a new life, a new protector. During a mission many years ago, a fallen woman was touched by God as we heard of how much God loved her. Her hardness of heart was broken up and she wept buckets of tears. She discovered the purity of virginity again. Jesus had cleansed, forgiven her, given her a new heart, and made her a new woman. Jesus had given this woman something far more precious than a dowry. This woman enjoyed Christmas every day.
Jesus was the unspeakable gift of God. He came carrying the unsearchable riches of God. These gifts are not material, but relational, pertaining to character and the heart. To receive, one must believe in Jesus and the Saver of his people. There are no conditions other than faith. The greatest of the gifts Jesus gives to the believer is eternal life. That is why when we choose Jesus, the gift of God, we have Christmas in our hearts forever.