Archive for December 24th, 2014

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

December 24, 2014

Well, there was, at any rate. He was not a “jolly old elf”, he did not live at the North Pole, and he never made any toys or drove a sleigh with eight reindeer. He didn’t look like this.

He actually looked more like this.

Of course, I am talking about Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical person on which the legends of Santa Claus are based.

Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch “Sinter Klaus”, and it was Dutch immigrants who brought over many of our ideas of Santa, including the idea of a man who gives out presents to well behaved children. Another influence was Father Christmas from Britain. And, of course there was the poem “The Night Before Christmas” which introduced the whole idea of the reindeer, going down chimneys, etc.The cartoonist Thomas Nast is believed to be responsible for the first portrayal of Santa in his red suit, and also the idea that he lives at the North Pole.

But the real Saint Nicholas was a bishop of the city of Myra in Asia Minor, or present day turkey. He lived from around 270-343. He was a Greek Christian whose parents died of an epidemic when he was very young. From his childhood he was religious. His uncle, also a bishop, raised him and when he was old enough made him a monk. Eventually he was made a bishop by the Christian community of Myra. There he stayed until his death in 343.

Nicholas apparently was quite a zealous bishop. He was imprisoned during the last great persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, but was released when Constantine became Emperor. He debated against and fought the pagans and the Arians, a heretic branch of Christianity, and participated in the great Council of Nicaea, where he lost control of his temper and actually slapped Arius. He was imprisoned for this but released after three days.

He was most famous for his acts of charity, many of which are probably legendary.The most famous story is that passing by a house he heard three daughters lament because their father could not afford a dowry for any of them. Without a dowry they could not get married and would probably have to resort to prostitution to survive. (Somehow this story never made into the children’s specials.) He threw a bag of gold into their window as each girl became old enough to marry. In one variation of the story, by the time of the third daughter, the father lay in wait to discover the identity of his benefactor. When Nicholas saw this, he threw the bag into their chimney.

After his death, Nicholas was buried in Myra, but in 1087, with Asia Minor being overrun by the Turks, some Italian sailors stole the remains and brought them to Bari, where they remain to this day.

Nicholas is a Saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches His feast day is December 6, today, and he is the patron saint of children, sailors, repentant thieves, pawn brokers, and others.

So, now you know the true story of Santa Claus.

If you want to know more about Catholic saints see here.

 

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The Nativity According to John

December 24, 2014

Like Mark, John does not include a narrative of the nativity. Instead, John chooses to go all the way back to the beginning.

 1.In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)

“The Word” is the usual translation of the Greek word λογος (logos) but logos means more than just “word” Logos means something like speech or discourse or reason. Hence the word logic is derived from logos, as well as “ology” as in geology or biology. The Stoic philosophers used the word logos to refer to the divine Reason in their pantheistic belief system while the Hellenistic Jews identified logos with the wisdom or spirit of God. John follows the Jewish view by identifying the logos with God. Notice he also identifies light and life with God this is a theme found throughout his gospel and in the first letter of John.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist was not the Word. He was only a messenger.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

The Word became flesh. But who was the Word or the Son.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:15-18)

The Word made flesh was Jesus Christ. Of the four gospels, John most emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, even to the  point of omitting incidents that show any weakness on the part of Jesus. John does not mention Jesus’s temptation in the desert by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist nor does he show Jesus’s agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no cry of despair from the cross. Jesus is alway shown as being calm and in control of events.

It may be that John wanted to emphasize the divinity of Jesus as a rebuttal to those who either believed that Jesus, while the Messiah was merely human and those who held that Jesus  was born human but had been adopted as the Son at his baptism or at some other time. John states that Jesus has existed since before time began as the eternal Word of God. At the same time, John firmly rejects the other extreme that Jesus did not really have a body made of matter but only seemed to be flesh. This idea was held by many Gnostics who taught that physical matter was an inferior substance to the spiritual realm, created by an inferior, and perhaps evil, deity. Jesus Christ, being a emissary from the higher God could not have a body made of mere flesh. John asserts that the the Word was made flesh and that really did have a body and really did eat and sleep.

It is curious that both these heresies are still found today, clothed in modern garb. Many liberal theologians cannot believe in the divinity of Jesus and insist that he was merely a great moral teacher. There are some Atheists who insist that Jesus never really existed in the physical realm but only as a myth. Maybe there really is nothing new under the Sun.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Word made flesh, the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.


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