BY REV. DR. PHILIP CRAIG
Greater Springfield Community Church
Matthew 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you shall give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
I would dare to say that most people know the story of Christmas that includes Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus, but I would like to challenge you today to see if you have heard the Christmas story.
This week, I took a survey that asked 25 Christians, “What does Christmas represent to you?” Not surprisingly, everyone answered similarly that Christmas signified the birth of Jesus Christ. If that is the case, then Christmas should be a big birthday party in memory of Jesus Christ. So, I asked, “If it’s Jesus’ birthday, then what is the significance of decorating a tree, hanging stockings, buying gifts for everyone except Jesus and talking about Santa Clause to our children?”
As a matter of fact, have you ever asked yourself what role Santa Claus—AKA St. Nicholas—plays in Jesus’ birth? Christmas actually started out with the name Christ’s Mass. In my church, we have something known as communion. In other churches, it’s called the Eucharist. Communion is given out during a church service called a Mass. Years ago in Europe, they would hold a special mass celebrating the birth of Jesus known as Christ’s Mass. Ancient Romans before Jesus’ time used to celebrate the shortest day of winter around Dec. 25 as well as the return of the sunshine. This celebration led to many Romans worshipping the sun.
By 350 A.D., many Romans were followers of Jesus—so, one day, the leader of the church at that time, Julius I, declared that Dec. 25 would no longer be a celebration of the sun, but rather one for Jesus, the Son of God. So, why does it now have such an impact on my wallet? Why has it become so commercialized? Like many things over time, we have moved away from Christmas’ original intent. When people say the word “Christmas,” the first thing that pops into the mind of a child is Santa Claus and gifts.
St. Nicholas was a leader in the church approximately 250 years after Jesus. His parents left him with a lot of money—and with that, he helped children and poor families to show Jesus love. As the story goes, if he heard that a family was in need, he would walk past their house at night and toss a small bag of gold coins through the window. Over time, the stories of St. Nick helping children spread throughout Europe and he was given his own holiday—known as St. Nicholas’ Day—on Dec. 6. Stories of St. Nicholas came to America by Dutch and German settlers. In Dutch, St. Nicholas was known as “Sinter Claase” and, in German, he was referred to as “Sant Niklaas.” Over the years, those names blended together as “Santa Clause.” Often, people compare St. Nicholas’ efforts to those of Jesus because they both gave to the poor and helped those in need.
The efforts of St. Nicholas are worth noting and he should be praised as a great human being. However, let’s not allow anything to cloud our focus on the Son of God, who came to do what no other was able to do. He sacrificed his life, so that we all could live. Gifts under a tree should not be the meaning of Christmas. The true meaning is the unselfish character of Jesus, who suffered for our sake and gave us the gift of life.
Similar to St. Nicholas, we should spread the love of Jesus by doing all we can to help one another on this Christmas Day as Jesus did all He could to help us. Merry Christmas to all!
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Email Pastor Craig at Phil.firstname.lastname@example.org