Santa Claus will be different this year, with social distancing and masks making it harder for children to tell the jolly man what they want for Christmas. But no matter how hard this year has been, or how different Christmas will be, Jesus is still the main focus of this holy day. And always will be.
He is still the hope, joy, peace, and love our world needs. Let’s look at why. First, let’s find out more about this man we call Santa and why he visits our homes each year.
Nicholas of Myra was born around AD 270 in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. He became bishop of Myra, was exiled and imprisoned by Emperor Diocletian, released by Constantine the Great, and died in Myra around AD 350. In 987 he was named the patron saint of Russia. In the year 1087 his remains were purchased by Italian merchants and moved to the city of Bari in Italy, where they are still preserved to this day in the church of San Nicola.
Nicholas has been one of history’s most venerated saints. By 1400 more than 500 songs and hymns had been written in his honor. When Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti on December 6 of 1492, he named the port St. Nicholas. By 1500 more than 700 churches in Britain were dedicated to him.
Why was he so beloved? Because he spent his life helping the poor and underprivileged. He was the first to initiate programs for mentally challenged children. He loved children and often visited their homes at night, disguised in a red and white hooded robe, leaving gifts of money, clothing or food at their windows or fireplaces.
For more about the story behind Santa and other traditions we observe each Christmas, see my paper, What does the Bible say about Santa Claus?
We observe Christmas as a holiday. But we must also keep it a holy day. There is reality behind the story of Christmas. Today I want to remind you of that real, historical event, and show you why it matters so much to your life and mine.
Is Christmas real?
John tells us: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1)).
This is how he takes his readers back nearly a hundred years, to the first Christmas. The babe born that day was “from the beginning.” John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
Jesus was creating the world “in the beginning”: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).
He was also holding it together: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). The Christ of Christmas existed long before he was born.
Then this Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer came to the earth he made. He chose his parents, a teenage girl and her peasant husband. He chose his town of birth, a tiny country village. He chose his place of birth, a dank, musty, dark cave behind a stable. He chose his crib, a stone feed trough; and his baby clothes, rough blankets. He chose his first worshippers, lowly field hands.
And John knows it is true, because he has seen it all himself: he has heard him teach, from the Sermon on the Mount to his ascension; he has seen with his eyes his miracles and physical ministry; his hands touched his resurrected life. This eyewitness testifies that it is all true.
And he’s not the only one. In addition to the biblical witness, Roman historians Tacitus, Seutonius, and Mara bar Serapion document his existence; Jewish historian Josephus gives us many details of his life; and Roman administrator Pliny the Younger describes the fact that the first Christians knew him to be real and worshipped him as God. It’s all true.
Long before there was a St. Nicholas, there was the Christ he worshipped. Long before there was a wooden manger in nativity scenes, there was a cave. I’ve been inside it, and even sang Christmas carols there. We know beyond any shadow of historical doubt that this is all true. There really is a Christ of Christmas.
Why does Christmas matter?
Now let’s ask our other question: why does it matter? Why does the fact that a baby was born in a feed trough in ancient Bethlehem matter? For these reasons.
First, life is found at Christmas.
The text continues: “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2). Life, significance, eternal purpose appeared at Christmas. It came to us with the baby born at Bethlehem, and with him alone.
My dear Cuban pastor friend Oscar Dellet explained this better than I can. In a sermon on John 10:10, he said, “Everything you see around you exists. The platform exists; the chairs exist; our bodies exist. But they do not have life. Life is found only in Jesus Christ. Everything else is just existence.”
He went on: “There is a God-sized hole in every human soul. That hole can be filled only with the life which Jesus gives. We can put everything that exists in that hole—cars, houses, clothes, status, money—but it won’t fill it. It can’t. Only Jesus can. Only he can give us life, significance, meaning and eternal purpose. We can have life only in him.”
If there were no Christmas, there could be no life. We would live and die, and spend eternity separated from God and life. Our lives can have life only because of him.
Now John turns from the philosophical to the practical: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (v. 3).
Later he says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (v. 7). Life is found in Christ.
Now we learn that loneliness is healed in Christ. That we have “fellowship” with each other and with God in Christ, and in Christ alone.
Loneliness is one of the great problems today, and especially during the holidays. This year the pandemic’s isolation makes it more so. Many are facing Christmas without a loved one for the first time. Many are far from family. Some of are going through trauma and pain, or have lost jobs and are struggling financially, or with health. We all know someone hurting.
Because of the Christ of Christmas, we have a Father and a family, and fellowship with him and with each other. We can be the fellowship and help for someone we know who is hurting this Christmas.
There’s more relevance to Christmas: “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (v. 4). Joy is well-being which transcends circumstances. And it is made “complete” in the One John speaks of, the Christ of Christmas. Joy is found at Christmas, and there alone.
Have you bought all your presents? How’s your joy so far this season?
The night of Jesus’ birth, the angel said: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). In the babe of Bethlehem there is “great joy.” Do you feel a well-being which transcends your circumstances today? If you don’t, you can.
Here’s my advice: come to the manger with me today.
Let’s finish: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9).
These are the gifts of Christmas, from the Christ to us. In him, and in him alone, we have life, fellowship, joy, and forgiveness. We have all our soul really needs. And it matters more than anything else in all the world.
You cannot earn or deserve them. But you can receive them, in faith. They are grace to you. God’s grace to you.
God has even more grace for you. Why not come for it, right now?