Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Bloody Santa

     Most of us have heard the song about Santa Claus coming to town. In the song we are told that he sees us when we are sleeping and knows when we are awake and even if we have been bad or good. In my own life hearing this as a child had significant meaning, especially since my parents told me this person was real. Every time around Christmas I was faced with the reality that I might not qualify for gifts because I knew my behavior wasn’t the best. Consequently, I found myself seeking the mercy of Santa by praying to him because I believed that he is all knowing and seeing, as the song proclaimed. Maybe my case is not your typical one since my parents had no religion in the home, which was the reason why I probably perceived santa as God. Never the less, in my case I believe God in addtion to his mercy had a sense of humor because I now work at St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic church.
     In the Christian version of Saint Nicholas there was a legend of some sailors who perishing at sea invoked his help while the saint was still alive, which at first would appear as if the saint was some kind of deity to them. Of course, being a Christian legend it says that at God's mercy the saint appeared to them and guided them to safety. I can't help to think that even though I treated santa claus like a deity God was merciful to me. Maybe the sailors like me at the time were not very knowledgeable about God and He saw our sincerity and helped guide us. In my case I had no knowledge of Jesus Christ at Christmas time but I found myself having long conversions with the person that I identified as God ,santa claus, hoping to earn his favor. Looking back at this simplicity I am amazed at how merciful God is for He uses even our greatest ignorance of Him to draw us close
     Looking at my past understanding of St. Nicholas as compared to what I know now I see two very different approaches to the Christmas season. For in the first t I was instructed that the generosity of the season was based on how good I was .In contrast, in the second the generosity of the season is based on the revelation that God loves us. In the generosity of the first there is always the possibly of not having the gift due to fact we are not always good. However, we find in the latter that the gift is always being offered no matter how good or bad we become. There is no doubt that even in understanding God we often take these very same approaches.
     When it comes to understanding God many feel that the gift of salvation is based on our performance. Like the santas at the malls when we sit on their laps the first thing that they ask us before talking about gifts is "have you been good". On the other hand, there are no conditions when it comes to what God is offering. At Christmas God became man so that we could become what He is by grace. He did not ask us if we are naughty or nice. In fact, the scriptures say that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)".God knew that the gift he was giving to the world could not be earned, nor did he expect it. Unfortunately , this is still unrealized by many. Some feel they must labor endlessly at trying to earn what God is offering. It's no wonder that some feel that church is something for people approaching death. It seems pointless if the distractions of youth defeat any possibility of earning one's way into heaven.
     When it comes to the belief of trying to earn ones place in heaven we find nothing less than a false teaching. Just as is the belief that Christmas is about a man who gives us gifts for being good. A few years ago to demonstrate how off track we have become with understanding this an artist painted a bloody looking Santa crucified on a cross surrounded by gift boxes. I couldn’t help but think how accurate this depiction is for many people. For me this was the god of my past. The one who gave to me if I deserved it and who left me in a constant state of fear by knowing that I might not qualify. With such fear it's no wonder why people only come to church once or twice a year. Worship of God seems pointless if you know you may never achieve results. This of course was not the message of Jesus Christ who offers to every person the power to experience God in every moment with out any fear.
     This is what we believe in the Byzantine tradition. Each year we fast and pray in anticipation of the time when we proclaim to each other,"Christ is born"Glorify Him".At this time our faith proclaims in a special way that heaven is an experience of God that we can have now and it only gets better in the life to come. This was the same message the real santa claus "St. Nicholas" proclaimed when he was on earth. He continually demonstrated through awesome acts of generosity that God has given all to us.For him there was no list to check twice but only the joy giving. A joy based in the reality of the God who became man so that we can become what He is.

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