When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best
By Paul Lagan, President, Alliance for Life Ministries (AFLM)
The story of Christmas has been told in many ways. From a manger in a far away land, to tinsel, lights, presents, and the make believe holiday that we have today. For many, the giving of cards to friends, relatives, business associates, and customers, has become a custom for the season. A trademark of one card company appropriately states, "When you care enough to send the very best."
Early Christians never celebrated Christmas. It was not until the fifth century that Christmas became an official Christian festival. Interestingly, most historians now believe December 25th is very likely not the exact date of birth for the One who is honored.
Through the years, Christmas has become symbolic of two vastly different men (Jesus and Santa Claus).
His original name was Nicholas, which means victorious. He was born in AD 280 in what is now Turkey, and orphaned at age nine when his parents died of a plague.
Nicholas became Bishop of Myra in the early fourth century and held that title until his death on December 6, 343 AD. History records him as Saint Nicholas, but actually he was a bit of a troublemaker, having been jailed for (among other things) slugging a fellow bishop.
Although old Nick was no Scrooge, there was never a Mrs. Claus. His claim to fame began and escalated as a result of the kindness he showed to a poor neighbor who was financially unable to provide a dowry so her three daughters could get married. As the story goes, Saint Nicholas slipped up to her house at night and dropped a handful of gold coins through the window, and the legend began.
The tale grew from a handful of coins to a bag of coins that he dropped down the chimney. Rather than them landing on the floor, they landed in stockings that were hanging on the hearth to dry. The real Nicholas was known to be slim, with a dark beard and a serious personality. By the year 1800 he was wearing a white beard (he apparently aged after 1500 years) and was depicted with a round belly, cherry red nose, wearing a red cape, black boots, and of course carrying a bag full of toys.
The seed of this story, watered throughout the years, became the figment of our imagination. Every generation adorned it with another ornament, until today (for many) Santa became Christmas! Sadly, the Jesus that was born in a manger in a far away land has also become a figment of our imagination, and is now portrayed by many Christians as little more than another Santa Claus.
You see, Santa reflects (for Christians and non-Christians alike) the composite of what many people believe they want. A sage who cares for you just as you are. Who rewards the naughty and the nice alike with presents, someone who tolerates everything and judges nothing. One who is willing to travel a great distance to see you, is joyful, upbeat, never gets sick, and never worries about tomorrow.
But Santa (counterfeit or not) can't provide what people need. Santa isn't much of a father figure (he's only around once a year). He may be kind and cute, but he doesn't take away hurts, mistakes, broken promises, and unfulfilled dreams. Santa doesn't provide words of wisdom for us to live by, or a solution for the grave. Society may look for the man with the bag full of toys, but wise men still seek their God.
So when it comes to candy, toys, tinsel and Rudolph, go to the North Pole. But when it comes to eternity, forgiveness, purpose and truth, go to the manger. Kneel with the shepherds. Worship the God who cared enough to send the very best.
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