In today’s sermon, I showed clips from my favorite Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street. I found what I hope were some interesting parallels between the movie and scripture. Like several recent Christmas-themed movies, Miracle is completely “secular”: for a movie obsessed with the “true meaning of Christmas,” it strangely never mentions what that meaning is—as in the God-incarnate-lying-in-a-manger meaning.
Still, as I demonstrated in my sermon, the parallels between “believing in Santa” and “believing in Jesus” are hard for someone like me to resist.
As I was summarizing the plot of the movie, I pointed out that Kris Kringle, like all people who do great good in the world, attracted powerful enemies. In Kris’s case, that enemy was Macy’s self-styled psychologist, whose real job was to administer personnel tests. He thinks Kris is not only delusional for believing he’s really Santa Claus but also prone to violence if someone questions his identity.
On this last score, at least, the pseudo-shrink wasn’t all wrong: Kris does have at least a small problem controlling his temper. At one point, Kris gives his enemy a well-deserved whack on the forehead with an umbrella, which was the basis for Kris’s being committed to Bellvue and put on trial.
Speaking of Santa Claus and violence, I heard something this season about the real St. Nicholas—the fourth-century Turkish saint on whom the legend of Santa Claus is based—which lends a strange, though completely accidental, verisimilitude to the Santa depicted in this movie.
St. Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea, at which the early church confronted its most important early heresy: Arianism, named after its chief expositor, a North African priest named Arius. Arianism was the belief that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, was “begotten” in the sense of being created by the Father. According to Arianism, Jesus, while of first rank among God’s creatures, was still a creature—literally a demigod—and less than fully God.
From the Council of Nicaea, the Church produced an early version of the Nicene Creed, but more importantly, formalized its theological understanding of God as Trinity, an idea which the church rightly said was implicit in scripture. Read the Nicene Creed and see how careful it is to articulate the differences and similarities between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Back to St. Nick: according to a legend that might even be true, he punched Arius while he was attending the council.
I know, I know… Turn the other cheek and all that. But if you’re going to punch just one heresiarch, it may as well be the worst one, right?
All that to say, I appreciate this meme that has made its way around the interwebs recently: