Before becoming a pastor I worked at a Christian camp in New Hampshire. I hosted retreats for different churches throughout New England. Our most attended winter weekends was called Christmas Traditions. Throughout the weekend we would recreate different family holiday traditions.
One of my jobs during the weekend was to dress as Santa and bring in a bag of toys for all the kids. One by one the kids would come up to me, I looked in their eyes and I asked each of them by name if they had been good all year. They gave me an enthusiastic yes and then I handed them a toy.
I knew that one of the families in attendance told their kids the “truth” about Santa. They explained to their children the tradition behind Santa and Christmas. The kids knew that other children would think Santa is real and it was their job to keep the spirit of Santa alive. When it Erik’s time for a present I watched as he approached me with curiosity that only a four year old at Christmas can have. “Santa?” he said. “Yes, it is me Erik. Have you been a good boy all year?” He responded with a breathless ‘Yes’ as he reached for my beard. I took his hands into mine and I handed him his gift and said “Thank you for helping me by being such a good boy all year. I made this especially for you.” He took the present and had a big smile on his face. He turned around and looked at his parents and said “Santa IS Real.” This, I thought is the magic of Christmas.
The magic of Christmas is brilliant and electric. You go to bed on Christmas eve, and when you wake up on Christmas morning, magically, Santa’s gifts appear under the Christmas tree.
I love magic and I have been to many magic shows. I have witnessed things appear and disappear, things created out of nowhere. Those shows have taught me one thing — that things may actually happen in a different way than we think we see them happening.
The illusion around Christmas is that Santa comes to every home around the world. He brings presents by going up and down chimneys even where they don’t exist. Many have imagined exactly how that happens. We have seen all the movies. They imagine different kind of sleighs that he arrives in, who the reindeer are, and what elves really look like. All of these are created in our minds. We can’t prove or disprove any of them — like the magic trick we see on stage, we can only guess what the truth is about how it is done.
The truth is that there is a Santa Claus. He was born almost 2,000 years ago, only a few hundred years after Jesus. He lived in Turkey. He was an important man there, and he became famous for giving…. secretly. He gave so that the person receiving the gift did not know who it came from.
They named him Saint Nicholas. The name got used so often as his spirit created miracles that it changed: Saint Nicholas, Saint-A-Nicholas, Saint-Na-Claus to Santa Claus.
Santa Claus, the spirit, is so huge that it made everyone get creative and want to give secret presents and surprises every Christmas.
The spirit of Christmas allows us an opportunity to give to others, not to get thanked, or praised, but just to make them happy. Sometimes this is done in secret and other times we find time during the day to help others.
I have experienced this personally this Christmas season. Three times in the last month I went through the the drive through at Dunkin’ Donuts to get my coffee at and when I arrive at the window and it is already paid for, that is magical. I was able to pay it forward and do a “Saint Nicholas” for someone else.
That is how it works.
The magic of Christmas, is not in what we get, and it is not in what we see. It is in what we feel, what we imagine and what we give to create love and happiness. Saint Nicholas was inspired by his faith to give to other people, he saw the life and the ministry of Jesus as inspiration to help others in need. That is what we can do as well.
Christmas inspiration is to make others happy and to experience love that we have for God and for one another. We may not be able to see the love but we can feel it and it becomes the most real things in the world.
Today, Christmas Eve I hope and pray that you have found some Christmas magic in your life, that you are able to see the goodness in others. I have seen it many times in my family as my children give of themselves for others, in my church as we support families in need through generosity of giving and in our community as Shaq came to visit and blessed our community with gifts and holiday cheer.
If you are looking for a place to go tonight for worship you are invited to come to Faith Lutheran Church (627 Green St) for Christmas Eve worship at 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm. We will also worship Christmas Day at 10:00 am. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.