am writing this meditation on December 6, the feast
day of St. Nicholas of Myra. St. Nicholas was born sometime
around 270 A.D. and became bishop of Myra, in what is
now Turkey, in the early fourth century. He was a saintly
figure to whom many miracles were attributed, but he
is best remembered for his practice of giving gifts
you say "Saint Nicholas" quickly, it sounds like "Santa
Claus." Most of us realize that the mythological Christmas
character is based on the life of this historical saint.
However, most young children spend their early years
believing that the myth is true, that there really is
a red-suited old man who pops down the chimney to bring
some point, we sit them down and try to demythologize
the Santa story. What do we say-that we've been lying
to them all this time? No, we defend our integrity by
explaining that the story is not untrue, it's just not
literally true. Santa is a metaphor, a symbol, the representation
of everything that's good about Christmas-caring, sharing,
same thing is true of the relationship between Jesus
of Nazareth, and Christ, the Savior of the World. There
was a remarkable Palestinian prophet who lived in the
first century A.D., a man who identified so profoundly
with God that he possessed powers that seemed miraculous.
His teaching and healing ministry were in support of
his basic mission: to announce that the time for religion
had ended, that the Kingdom of God had come to earth.
But his work threatened the religious establishment
of his day and they had him killed, in order to preserve
the integrity of their traditions.
cult which grew up around this unique messenger from
God eventually turned him from a human prophet into
a divine figure who was part of the Godhead. Thus, anyone
wanting to please God and achieve heaven had to be a
follower of this God/man. In fact, in their view there
was no other door to heaven; all other belief systems
led to hell.
people are indifferent to how the Santa myth began.
Most people are also unaware of the origin of the Christ
myth. Is the story about Jesus of Nazareth a lie? No,
it is certainly true; it's just not literally true.
It is a metaphor, a symbol, the representation of everything
that's good about God-caring, sharing, gift-giving,
When we grow up, we understand that we can't wait for
someone to come down the chimney and give presents to
our family members. If we don't provide them ourselves,
there will be no presents. When we grow up, we understand
that we don't have to wait for a savior to make us acceptable
to God. We are acceptable simply because we are part
of God. Therefore, we have to take responsibility for
our own actions, we have to feel a personal mission
to improve the quality of life on earth. Jesus challenged
us in this work by promising that we would do even greater
things than he did.
is a good time to demythologize the Christ story. We
can still cherish the myths of Santa and Christ the
Savior, because they have within them basic truths which
God wants us to learn. But moving from a childish to
an adult vision of truth means that the responsibility
for improving our lives and the life of the world lies
with us, not with anyone else-not Santa, not a savior,
not even God. If we don't give the gifts, there will
be no gifts.
Dec. 6, 2003
John W. Sloat 2003