Thursday, November 20, 2008

excerpt from my favorite sermon i've ever preached (on santa claus)

In effect, Santa is providing for us an example of what a Christian actually is. He’s demonstrating Christian spirituality as he brings gifts, as he spreads hope, as he delivers joy and as he demonstrates to the whole 21st Century world what it means to truly live a life of generosity. The things Santa does are themselves rooted in and motivated by his love for Jesus Christ. So, too, we ought to look at the person and work of Jesus Christ and be motivated to be like Santa.

Is that a bit of a stretch? It was for me too when I first began to think about it. Then I started going back again and again to the pages of the New Testament and reading through Santa Claus-colored glasses what we were being instructed to do by the Apostle Paul or what Jesus was instructing us to do. What kind of instructions do we see in the pages of the New Testament text?

I want to read from Ephesians, Chapter 4 in The Message translation. This is Paul writing to the persecuted Church in the region of Ephesus, which is the same region in which Santa Claus was born. Remember, Santa Claus read this letter; this was part of Santa’s Bible. These are the words that made Nicholas, St. Nicholas. These are the words that transformed a fishing boy into the most powerful and significant cultural icon in the last two millennia. He’s more famous than any theologian, pope, charitable person or movie star; everyone knows Santa.

Look at the words now that made Santa, Santa.

While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get
out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to
travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t
want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And
mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts,
but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert
at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction,
so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one
faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works
through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is
permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same.

Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.

He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled
earth with his gifts.

We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He
keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through
us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

Think about what those words must have done to a simple, little boy who grew up surrounded by the courageous confidence of men and women who are willing to be put to death for their religious convictions. For Nicholas, as a boy, all of those heroes for him would have been people who looked almost the same. They would have been from the same kind of socio-economic class, gone from place to place preaching and praying for people to perform acts of healing and acts of proclamation.

But Nicholas does something totally different. He makes the mission of Christ his own. He changes the way he is going to express Christian spirituality. Instead of going and preaching, he goes and gives gifts. He doesn’t go and give gifts publicly, he does it at night, in secret, so no one will ever look to him and talk about how great or wonderful he is. He just wants to give because he’s motivated by generosity.

It’s hard for us sometimes to separate the real St. Nicholas from the Santa Claus on the Christmas card, or the Santa Claus on the Christmas ornament, but we must – we must remember that Santa Claus is real. Santa Claus is motivated by affection for Jesus Christ to do things that will never benefit him or make his life better, but will only help to make our lives more full of joy. He teaches us what it means to believe. If you’ve got kids you see what Santa Claus does; you see how he awakens hope. He changes the perceptions of people and families from brokenness to joy, from despair to hope, from poverty to prosperity.

These things are Christ things. These are Jesus things, the things Jesus taught the apostles, the things they wrote about in the Bible. For us, this year, as counterintuitive as it might seem to talk about Santa Claus at Christmas in a church, it changes Santa from just a pop culture symbol and puts him right in the middle of the Christian Christmas story.

It teaches us Santa Claus isn’t a provider, but an example. We ought to be like him as he endeavors to be like Jesus Christ.

It’s our great ambition and hope for us all this year (and every year to come) that as you look at Santa Claus in the mall or in the cards that you recognize there is in St. Nicholas a power to change the world. That authority, that motivation, is placed there by God in him and it’s ready and able to be placed in us as well.

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