Saturday, December 22, 2012

Santa or Jesus? Must we Choose?

Christmas is soon upon us.  Yesterday we had the first snow to stay on the ground.  Today i bought a few more Christmas gifts.  Tomorrow i post a blog on Santa Clause.  The day after tomorrow is the fourth Sunday of advent.  It is a good time to contemplate what Christmas really is and what it should mean to us.  Every year we hear our pastors or priests talk about how the Christmas season, the love and the self sacrifice, should not be restricted to only one month, they should extend throughout the year.  And yet, every year when the Christmas decorations come down, so too does that Christmas spirit.
      I have a problem with people who say Santa isn’t real.  I stopped believing in him when I was around 10 or 11 years old and didn’t regain that faith until college.  Today I absolutely believe in Santa, 100%, and if you know me you know I can defend my beliefs.  I have heard many people discuss the differences between Santa Clause and Jesus and how Jesus wins on every comparison. These
people are missing the point of the great Saint who spreads so much joy each season.  When people place him above Jesus that is a problem, but nor should they be in competition.  Santa's gifts aren’t the physical ones left under the tree, and he doesn’t travel the world on a sleigh pulled by nine reindeer.  All of these ideas are symbols for deeper truths which Saint Nicolas is trying to teach us.  Christ is constantly working through Saint Nick and Saint Nick is constantly pointing us towards Christ.
      Saint Nicholas is a real historical figure born around 270AD in a little town called Patara, in modern day Turkey.  His parents were wealthy Christians who passed on their love of Christ to their son.  They died when he was still fairly young, probably early teens.  However, they had done such a good job passing on their faith that young Nicholas devoted himself and his inherited wealth to serving the poor and the needy in his community.  When he was old enough he became a priest and soon after the bishop of Myra, a larger town to the east of Patara.  He is remembered for his love of those in need, especially children and the many miracles and stories attributed to him.  One story says he punched Arius at the council of Nicea.  He is one of my favorite Saints and i could write this entire post on the historical figure, if you would like to know more in that regard look here.  Today, i am more interested in the myth.
      When people place Saint Nick and Jesus in conflict with each other the gifts are often the central focus.  "Santa gives material gifts and thus supports materialism, Jesus gives spiritual gifts and so He denounces materialism."  For many this is enough to condemn Santa as a usurper.  I would suggest that this is not necessary, that the true gifts are the same.  The material gifts attributed to Santa are symbols of these true gifts, the gifts of faith, hope, and love and the message of salvation.
      Nicholas was a bishop and even to this day Santa Clause dresses in red, the color of Bishops.  The role of the Bishop is to guide and serve.  He is a husband to his church and a father to his congregation.  If we are disobedient to God we cannot receive the gifts of the Spirit.  So too, if we are naughty we cannot receive the gifts Santa brings.  This is not materialism, this is symbolism.  Being obedient to our parents teaches us how to be obedient to God.  This obedience is necessary for salvation, the greatest gift of all.
      As a bishop, Saint Nicholas was single.  Mrs. Clause can be seen as a construct for the Church as the people of God. She teaches us of the role of a bishop as husband.  But more than that, she teaches us of our responsibilities.  Just as a wife needs to support and encourage her husband, so too must we support and encourage our bishops.
      The sleigh represents the Church as a structure, as the institution through which we receive the sacraments.  Just as Santa has his reindeer, the bishop has his priests.  As the reindeer bring the sleigh and its gifts to the children of the world, the priests bring the the Church and its gifts to the children of God.  We see this in Rudolph's red nose which glows so bright that it serves as a light to guide the sleigh.  In every Catholic Church there is a red light, a candle burning near the tabernacle.  It symbolizes the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Just as Rudolph's red nose guides Santa's sleigh, the Eucharist must guide the Church.
      And who are we in all this?  We are the elves who make the toys.  We display our faith and hope and love in the world.  When we do this we produce the proofs that draw people deeper into God.  But unlike the elves who stay safely hidden away in the workshop, we must be in the world drawing people into the Church where they can receive these gifts.
      Christ has granted Santa an infinite supply of presents.  Every time a gift is given in Santa's name this great saint gives a gift of his own to both the giver and receiver, a gift containing not toys or earthly wealth, but the three greatest gifts of all, the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of faith and hope and love.  Perhaps the reason these three greatest gifts of Christ tend to leave the world when the Christmas decorations come down is not because people forget Christ, but because they forget we are His workers, not just in December, but throughout the entire year.  Christ has empowered Santa to further the message of salvation, but we must participate in this.  Just as Santa has no gifts to give without the elves, our bishops will have no one to bestow their gifts upon unless we are out there winning souls.
      We do not need to choose between Santa and Jesus.  We have been called to a New Evangelization.  Perhaps if we ask him, Santa will help us in this.  He has a great deal to tell the world if we are willing to give him a voice.

Merry Christmas
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