From the Parish Priest, Fr Nicholas Clews
When I was eight my mother told me a dreadful thing. She told me that the tooth fairy did not exist. I was rather uncertain how to deal with this momentous revelation. My bottom lip quivered and I said rather hesitatingly, ‘You will be telling me next that Father Christmas does not exist either.’
I think what concerned me was that the loss of an occasional sixpence under my pillow was pretty minor compared with a pillowcase full of presents every December. I could have added – and perhaps I did in my own mind –‘You will be telling me next that God does not exist.’
And for many people the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and God have the same status. Imaginary people who keep us going until we grow up. For example a little while ago I went to a Christmass presentation by the nursery at my local school. We heard songs about Superman, wicked witches and the birth of Jesus with no attempt to distinguish between them. So for many people God is a fantasy like Superman and the wicked witch – except that when it comes to God many of us never grow up.
So, can we know that God is not just another fantasy? And if so, how?
We can begin by knowing him with the mind. We can think about the possibility that God is real. Scientists are increasingly convinced that the universe has not always been there, that there was a time when it came into existence. This is the Big Bang theory. If that is true it leads to a further question of who made it happen? What was there before the Universe was made? These questions about the origin of life have led philosophers over the centuries to believe in the possibility of God.
But to believe in the possibility of God does not imply that we know anything about him – we cannot even assume that he is good in any sense that we would recognize.
If we look within ourselves we discover great depths of creativity. None of us may be van Gogh or Shakespeare or Mozart. But every one of us has the ability to create and to recognize beauty. Above all, each of us has the capacity to love and be loved. What this all adds up to is that we have a sense of something wonderful and amazing in our world. And this sense of there being something wonderful and amazing in our world, hints at that part of God we call the Father, the one who made it all.
But finding God does not depend on our own efforts with the mind. God has revealed him or herself to us. He sent the Old Testament prophets, some to encourage, some to warn but all to communicate something of the nature of God. But in the end the prophets could not do justice to the nature of God and so God knew that the only option was to come in person. That is the significance of Christmass. We could not reach up to heaven. But God could reach down to earth. It matters that he came to earth not as a fully-grown man but as a child; as we sing in the carol Once in Royal David’s City, ‘He was little weak and helpless.’
It follows that his death on the cross was no tragic accident. It was the whole purpose of his birth. He came to demonstrate that the nature of God is not to be powerful or macho but vulnerable. This was his way of showing how much he loves us
It is great to know that God himself lived on earth two thousand years ago. But two thousand years is a long time. It might feel increasingly irrelevant. But another Christmas Carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem takes us a little further on our journey of finding God:
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit, God within us, Jesus born in us today. No longer up in heaven; no longer in a far off land many years ago. But in my heart and your heart today. That is how we know that God is even more real than Santa or the tooth fairy.