Denison Forum – Bishop tells children Santa doesn’t exist: The quest for hope and a tribute I will never forget

Is it true that Santa Claus’ red costume was created by the Coca-Cola Company for publicity?

Italian Bishop Antonio Stagliano reportedly made this comment during a recent religious festival at which he also said Santa does not exist. Now his diocese in Sicily is apologizing to outraged parents. Apparently, the bishop was trying to underline the true meaning of Christmas and the story of St. Nicholas, a Christian leader who gave gifts to the poor and was persecuted by a Roman emperor.

While I would never want to be on the wrong side of Santa Claus, I also appreciate the bishop’s desire to ground the hope of Christmas in truth and history. We clearly need such hope today.

Pastor and wife shot at vigil

The Kentucky governor stated yesterday afternoon that Friday night’s tornado outbreak killed at least seventy-four people in his state. With around eight hundred thousand deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in the US, the New York Times reports that one in one hundred older Americans have died from the virus.

Britain is battling an Omicron “tidal wave” as infections double every two or three days and the first death from the variant was recorded. And CNN reports that cities across the US are breaking all-time homicide records this year.

One example stands for the rest: a pastor and his wife were shot while attending a vigil in the Houston area being held by a mother for her son, who was killed at his home a couple of weeks ago. The drive-by shooting Sunday evening killed one person and injured at least thirteen others.

Napoleon Bonaparte observed, “Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment.” Psychologists tell us that hope is essential to managing stress and anxiety as we cope with adversity.

In these difficult days, where can we turn to find the hope our hearts need most?

The 4 “comings” of Jesus

I was privileged to talk with Chris Brooks on his national radio show yesterday. We discussed the tornado outbreak and the recent high school shooting in Michigan that occurred not far from the church where he serves as pastor.

Chris made the profound point that God uses suffering to point us beyond this world to the next and to call us from our finitude to his omnipotence. I agreed and noted that “Advent” (from the Latin adventus, “coming”) is a season when the church has historically focused not just on Jesus’ first coming but on his Second Coming as well.

In fact, as I noted with Chris, there are four “comings” of Jesus in our world:

  • The first was at Christmas when God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
  • The second is when Christ comes into believers’ lives by his Spirit at salvation (Ephesians 1:13–14).
  • The third is when, if his return to earth tarries, he comes for us at death to bring us with him to heaven (John 14:3).
  • The fourth is when he comes back to this fallen planet (Acts 1:11) as our King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).

If you are a Christian, you are living between Jesus’ second coming and his third or the fourth. Every day that passes is one day closer to that day when we go to him or he comes for us. In the meantime, it is vital that we share the compassionate grace of our suffering Savior wherever and whenever we can. Each day’s news proves again that “you do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:14), which is why “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Every day is God’s invitation to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), remembering with Mark Dever that “today is what the Lord has prepared you for.”

A daughter’s tribute to her fallen father

To prove that God can empower us to share his love in the most painful of circumstances, I’ll close with a tribute I will never forget.

My community has been grieving the death of Richard Houston II, a twenty-one-year veteran of the police department in Mesquite, a suburb of Dallas. He was fatally shot December 3 while responding to a domestic dispute.

Officer Houston received forty-eight letters of commendation during his career, two Life Saving Awards, and one police commendation bar. But his greatest achievement was the way he lived for Jesus. The married father of three “walked with God each day,” as Mesquite Assistant Police Chief Doug Yates stated at his funeral.

His eighteen-year-old daughter Shelby exemplified her father’s faith with a tribute I urge you to watch. At one point she stated:

“I remember having conversations with my dad about him losing friends and officers in the line of duty. I have heard all the stories you can think of, but I’ve always had such a hard time with how the suspect is dealt with. Not that I didn’t think there should be justice served, but my heart always ached for those who don’t know Jesus—their actions being a reflection of that.

“I was always told that I would feel differently if it happened to me. But as it’s happened to my own father, I think I still feel the same. There has been anger, sadness, grief, and confusion. And part of me wishes I could despise the man who did this to my father. But I can’t get any part of my heart to hate him.

“All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus. I thought this might change if the man continued to live. But when I heard the news that he was in stable condition, part of me was relieved. My prayer is that someday down the road, I’d get to spend some time with the man who shot my father, not to scream at him, not to yell at him, not to scold him. Simply to tell him about Jesus.”

The same Spirit who empowered Shelby to speak these miraculous words lives in you as well. Would you ask him to give you the compassion and the courage to share the hope of Jesus with someone today?

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