Sermon for Christmas Day
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 25, 2010
I must admit that until earlier this week, I had never heard of Francis P. Church. Francis Pharcellus Church was a publisher and editor who died just over 100 years ago. I’m sure he would have passed into obscurity as a newspaper editor were it not for an editorial he wrote to a young girl on September 21, 1897. Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun the following question to the editor, “Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so. Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” Not only did Francis Church take time to write little Virginia back, he did so with a depth and compassion that one would wish for and long for today. For those who have never heard this, here is how Mr. Church responded.
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Certainly this letter was written to address a terribly important question in the mind of an eight year old little girl. For us though there is the even more crucial question for all mankind to answer: Is Jesus real, and is he who he claims to be? There are too many points of comparison between this letter and how we might answer that question if it were asked of us as His disciples?
However, one in particular stands out right from the beginning that is worth pondering. I believe that Mr. Church hit on something over 100 years ago that is even more rampant than I’m sure he could have ever imagined when he first penned those words. He told little Virginia that those who doubt the existence of Santa Claus, “have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.” I think it quite plausible that Mr. Church comes from the same school as G. K. Chesterton who said:
“…But the new rebel is a Sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.
Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time.
A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything…”
So here we are on Christmas morn to celebrate once again the birth of the Messiah, the Incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We’re doing so in an even more skeptical world than either Mr. Church or Mr. Chesterton saw in their day over a century ago. And yet, the person of Jesus is the true answer to the skeptics of that age, our age, and the age to come. He has answered every skeptic in every age, and will continue to do so, the issue at hand for the believer is will we prepare a place for Him to rule as our Lord, heal those places marred with sin, and continue to make us holy as He Himself is Holy? That is our story, and what we celebrate again this day.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. However, more important than that Virginia, there is a Saviour born this day who is Christ the Lord. He lives, and He lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, Jesus will continue to make glad the heart of men if we but welcome Him in, and prepare a place for Him in our hears to rule for all eternity.
Merry Christmas, and Thanks be to God!