More than one million Americans and Canadians were without power over the weekend as a “bomb cyclone” wreaked havoc with snow, strong winds, and freezing temperatures that affected nearly 250 million people.
But I’m happy to report that Santa Claus was not one of them.
US military officials assured anxious children that the arctic blast that disrupted US airline traffic would not prevent Santa from making his annual Christmas Eve flight. A spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which tracks the yuletide flight, explained: “We have to deal with a polar vortex once in a while, but Santa lives year-round in one at the North Pole, so he’s used to this weather.”
My four grandchildren confirmed the military’s report by opening numerous presents from Santa yesterday morning.
Santa Claus has an official address
Of course, rationalistic skeptics might view both the military’s statement and my grandchildren’s testimony as somewhat fanciful. In their view, anything that defies human logic and experimental corroboration must be considered myth and tradition, nothing more.
This is especially the case if they can find rational explanations for the events in question.
For example, according to the United States Postal Service (USPS), Santa Claus’s official address is 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 8888. The USPS reports that letters sent to this address are received, personal information is redacted, the letters are published online, and generous people “adopt” them and ship gifts to the letter writers. This practice provides a naturalistic explanation for many gifts from “Santa.”
Another factor is the bedrock principle of scientific discovery that an experiment’s results must be capable of verification by others who perform the same experiment. Philosopher Antony Flew offered a similar approach called “falsification”: essentially, if a truth claim cannot be proven wrong, it cannot be proven right.
If I claim to have met with Santa Claus on his nocturnal visit Saturday evening, you will want evidence: Did anyone else see him with me? Did I take his photo or get other empirical evidence of our encounter? Can you speak with him? If the answer to these and any other investigatory questions is no but I still insist that my story is true, you will obviously dismiss my assertion.
And so it is that many view Santa’s “visit” on Christmas Eve with unbridled skepticism. Tragically, millions view the other event we celebrated this weekend in the same way.
Was Jesus a great teacher but nothing more?
According to a recent survey, 52 percent of American adults believe that Jesus was a great teacher but nothing more. In their view, it is as mythical and irrational to claim that the Christ of Christmas is the Son of God as it is to claim that Santa visited my home last Saturday evening.
I believe I understand their reasoning:
One: Since 53 percent of Americans believe that the Bible “is not literally true,” they do not allow clear biblical claims for the divinity of Christ (cf. John 1:1, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3, John 8:8) to change their minds.
Two: Since we live in a postmodern, relativistic culture where many people consider all truth claims to be personal and subjective, they are not persuaded by the extraordinary extrabiblical evidence for the deity of Christ. (For a survey of such evidence, see my “Is Jesus really God?”)
Three: If Jesus is only a “great teacher,” they are no more bound to do what he said than they are to obey the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, or any other “great teacher.”
Four: Thus they can choose which teachings of the “great teacher” they will obey and reject the others in order to live however they wish to live.
“The site of God’s surprising presence”
The illogical nature of this reasoning deserves a larger response than I have room left to offer today, so we’ll pick up the story tomorrow. For now, let’s close by focusing on the billions of people who do accept the biblical claim that the Baby of Bethlehem was and is the divine Son of God.
In her Sunday New York Times article, Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren explains what this truth claim means for them: “Because God took on a human body, all human bodies are holy and worthy of respect. Because God worked, sweating under our sun with difficulty and toil, all human labor can be hallowed. Because God had a human family and friends, our relationships too are eternal and sacred. If God became a human who spent most of his life in quotidian ways, then all our lives, in all of their granularity, are transformed into the site of God’s surprising presence.”
What does the incarnational miracle of Christmas say to the hurting and lonely? Warren continues: “God knows the depths of human pain not in theory but because he has felt it himself. From his earliest moments, Jesus would have been considered a nobody, a loser, another overlooked child born into poverty, an ethnic minority in a vast, oppressive, and seemingly all-powerful empire. We have tamed the Christmas story with overfamiliarity and sentimentality—little lambs and shepherds, tinsel and stockings—so we fail to notice the depth of pain, chaos, and danger into which Jesus was born.
“God identifies himself most with the hungry and the vulnerable, with those in chronic pain, with victims of violence, with the outcasts and the despised.” When Jesus was born, “it was not into a posh home in a cozy Christmas movie but instead into a place of hardship and sorrow.”
A time for choosing
You and I can dismiss the incarnational miracle of Christmas, or we can believe that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:7). We can trust that Son with our greatest fears and failures, worries and burdens. And we can invite those we influence to do the same.
Warren concludes: “The hope of Christmas is that God did not—and therefore will not—leave us alone.” But we can leave him alone and miss the miracle of Christmas in our daily lives.
The day after Christmas is a time for choosing what Christmas will be to us the rest of the year.