The Christmas Challenge

>> Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I love Christmas time.  At par value, it is one of the more sentimental, family-oriented of the holiday seasons.  The simple things like a lit tree, hot chocolate, a good movie, giving gifts, seeing family ... you understand I'm sure.  In fact most people probably share similar sentiments as I do regarding this joyous holiday.  But do we honor this occasion as we should in the way we celebrate?

I'm afraid that as a society we have grown to love too much the traditions and the comforts this holiday affords us.  Ever wonder how we have gone from a celebration of the most significant event in history to a largely self-centered holiday with a Santa Claus headliner? The clues may be in our understanding of 'the Claus' himself.

So what about Santa Claus?  As I've been reading about Santa's origins across the world, I have been challenged by how much our commercialized perceptions of Santa Claus have become tainted by the fading thread of authentic Christ-following in our society and even in our church culture today.  In reality, Santa's origins back to Saint Nicholas offers a refreshing glimpse of the true value of the holiday - a value that I feel we as Christians should deepen our understanding and passion for.  Nicholas' was a life that looked like the great commandment and it powerfully trumpeted the Gospel of Christ.

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.
sourced from

Did this description of Saint Nicholas sound a lot like our current perceptions of Santa Claus to you?  Me either.  Rather than jolly ole' St. Nic making toys, living with elves, keeping naughty/nice lists, etc ... Saint Nicholas sounded much more like James 1:27, Romans 8:16-19, and Romans12:1-2 to me. He suffered for his faith.  He spurned his own wealthy inheritance for sake of the sick, the needy, the suffering.

So now, it's no longer about just Christmas, just the holiday, it's about our lives.  If we are living a life devoted to the worship of God, if we are devoted to loving God and loving others, if we are devoted to the 'purist of religion', if we are devoted to 'visiting widows and orphans in their affliction', if we are devoted to keeping ourselves 'unstained from the world', if we are devoted to making much of the Gospel of Christ - our lives, especially at Christmas should reflect it - word AND deed.
You see, it's not enough to pursue "Keeping Christ in Christmas", it's about restoring the image of Christmas as the message and picture of God's extraordinary love.  Our celebration of this great occasion, in it's purist form, should be a marquee portraying in word and deed the great commandment.  Christ's birth shows God's love for us all.  What better way to "Love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, minds" than to accurately portray Christmas to a world around us.  And what better way to "Love others as yourself" than to follow in the ways of Christ, looking to men of faith like Nicholas of Patara - Saint Nicholas - for ways to pour out this love effectively on others.

That's Christmas as I'm coming to realize it once again - loving God, loving others, making much of the Gospel of Christ.  That the Messiah came to us, lived, died, and now lives -- oh, it's great news and we have to take action to tell it for the sake of people and cities even and especially at Christmas.

Merry Christmas!


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