Santa Claus isn’t what he used to be. The image of jolly, ole St. Nick with his big belly, white beard and red coat has been around for less than two centuries. Our modern manifestation of Santa is largely based on the writings of Washington Irving and L. Frank Baum, as well as the illustrations of Thomas Nast and the Coca-Cola ads painted by Haddon Sundblom.
Our modern Santa, however, bears little resemblance to the real St. Nicholas.
Nicholas was a bishop in the early Christian Church who lived just over two centuries after Jesus. He was known for his generosity and penchant for gift giving.
He was also a defender of the faith. He was imprisoned during the empire-wide persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. When Emperor Constantine later legalized Christianity, Nicholas was one of the bishops invited by Constantine to the Council of Nicea to discuss problems within the Church.
Another bishop named Arius was teaching that Jesus wasn’t really God. According to Arius, Jesus wasn’t eternal like God the Father and wasn’t equal to him in power and majesty. His teaching, known as Arianism, had spread throughout the empire causing confusion and division in the Christian Church.
At the Council of Nicea, Arius debated with the other bishops about whether God is really triune, that is, three persons in one God. In the end, the teaching of Arianism was found to not agree with the Bible.
The overwhelming majority of bishops, including Nicholas, later subscribed to a confession of faith which many Christians still recite today in their worship – the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed confesses what the Bible says about Jesus, namely that he is the eternal, all-powerful God through whom all things were created.
According to tradition, at one point Nicholas became so frustrated with Arius at the Council of Nicea that he walked up and slapped him in the face.
Not exactly the jolly, ole St. Nick we’ve come to know and love.
Every year at Christmas, Christians lament the fact that Christ has been removed from Christmas. Santa Claus, Rudolph and shopping have taken over.
But the truth is, you can keep Christ in Christmas and still miss the whole point. When Christmas is simply about a cute baby in an idyllic stable, surrounded by smiling shepherds and pretty angels, the true meaning of Christmas is lost.
Christmas isn’t about a cute baby in a manger. Christmas is about who that baby is. Jesus is God – the all-powerful God who created everything that exists – the God who fills the universe and rules over all things.
The meaning and miracle of Christmas is the incarnation – that God became a man. God became one of us to take our place, to die our death, so that we could live with him forever in heaven.
That is what makes Christmas so special. That cute baby lying in the manger is God himself. Never forget who he is.
You don’t want Santa to come and slap you.