Do you remember when you first learned that your parents were Santa Claus? (I trust no one under the age of 10 is reading this morning’s essay.)
I remember my growing skepticism–how can one person deliver toys to every home in a single night? And what about houses without chimneys? My parents eventually capitulated, confirming my suspicions. Years later I learned that there was a real St. Nicholas, a fourth-century benefactor upon whom the myth was based. But that fact didn’t cause me to set out cookies by the fireplace.
Is Jesus’ divinity like that? We know he was a real person–ancient Roman and Jewish records prove his existence conclusively. But was he a man turned into a God by centuries of Christian tradition, as so many skeptics claim? Is Christmas–the birth of the Son of God–a tradition based on a myth?
Enter the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud is a 14-foot cloth in which many believe Jesus Christ was buried. It contains faint markings that seem to be stains left by a crucified body. It was first documented in the 14th century; in 1578 it was taken to its current home in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. In 1988, carbon-14 techniques dated the Shroud to AD 1260-1390. But many experts since have claimed that the methods used were flawed, and that the piece of cloth on which the tests were run was a medieval repair to the garment.
Now there’s a very interesting new chapter to the story. A group of Italian scientists claim that they have proven the garment could not have been produced in the Middle Ages. The researchers conducted dozens of tests with X-rays and ultraviolet lights. They say the markings could only have been made by “a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation,” technology that did not exist at the time skeptics claim the Shroud was forged. In fact, such technology does not exist even today.
The Shroud reveals a body that was scourged according to ancient Roman custom, using a cat-o-nine tails embedded with pieces of lead. The thumbs of the victim are not visible in the image. The reason: when a spike is driven through the median nerve of the wrist, the thumb jerks back into the palm. The red stains are blood, type AB; elevated levels of bilirubin are present, most likely caused by the trauma of scourging.
Was the image on the Shroud created by intense light produced by Jesus’ resurrection? This explanation is today more plausible than ever. Is it proof of Jesus’ divinity? Scientists use methods appropriate to their investigation–what’s the best way to know a person’s existence and capabilities?
It would be hard to meet Santa Claus, on Christmas or any other day. But Jesus is as close as your knees. Why do you need his presence and divine power today?