​Anglican Primate Archbishop Phillip Aspinall

Australia’s Anglican Primate, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, delivered this homily on Christmas Eve in St John’s Cathedral Brisbane.

(John 1.1-14)

Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon had been filled with doubts by some of her friends telling her there is no Santa Claus. Her family had a habit of writing to ‘The (New York) Sun’ newspaper to settle disputes about pronunciation of words or historical facts. Virginia’s father had told her: “If you see it in the ‘Sun’, it’s so.” So she wrote: “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

Francis Church, son of a Baptist Minister and Civil War journalist, was one of the anonymous editorial writers at ‘The Sun’. He usually ended up with any assignments touching on theology. On September 21, 1897, ‘The Sun’ carried the most famous editorial ever published, and continued to publish it annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business. In 1897 Church wrote:

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see …

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist … how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus … There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance … The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

“… 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 …

“… 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, 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.”

If Virginia’s friends in 1897 had become affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age, how much more so our children?

What would I write today, to the hundreds of thousands of Anglican children in Australia, about the importance of Christmas and the gift of faith, after this year’s faith-shaking revelations of failures by Church people? It would be something like this:

“Yes, kids, Jesus is real.

“Christmas celebrates his birth.

“He was born just as you were and he grew up as you are.

“But he was different, too. He was the son of God and he spent his life showing us what God is like.

“When Jesus was grown up, but still not very old, he died.

“But God made him alive again and he still lives in the hearts of people everywhere who believe in him.

“He lives in people black, white and brown; in people who speak like your family, and those who speak in languages you can’t understand.

“Billions of people around the world live their lives trying to be like him.

“Some, though, have betrayed Jesus and other people.

“Their wrong acts have been cruel and have hurt other people.

“That has made some people very sad and angry and cynical about people of faith.

“We must do our very best to understand how sad these people are and what has hurt them. And we must listen to them and love them.

“We must also not let the wrong things some people have done stop us from believing in Jesus or trying to be like Him.

“Faith doesn’t make anyone perfect. No one can ever be perfect. Even your mum and dad and your teachers and your best friend – even they all sometimes do things which are wrong.

“Believing in Jesus doesn’t magically guarantee that you will always do right.

“People do wrong because they’re greedy, selfish, frightened, or angry. When Christians do wrong, they forget or ignore what Jesus taught us and showed us.

“What Jesus wants is for us to remember him and to do our best to be like him. And when we fail to say ‘Sorry’, to make amends and to try again.

“Jesus can be a great friend.

“In the loneliest moments, he will not leave you alone.

“In the saddest times, Jesus is there with you.

“He can bring you hope and love and faith.

“Don’t be distracted by people who say Jesus isn’t real because you can’t see him. Even though we can’t see him with our eyes, and sometimes we doubt if he is real, he is really there.

“As much as I wish it were otherwise, there may be times when you feel less than loved. There will be times when you feel wronged and when you fail or despair.

“Even the greatest love – God’s love – won’t stop those times coming.

“But that love can help. Your faith, the presence of Jesus and the friendship of those who believe as you do — that’s how God’s love is made real.

“So when you hurt, share it.

“When others reach out a helping hand, grab it.

“And when people say nice things about you, believe them.

“As you grow, your faith and your friendship with Jesus will shape your life.

“Care about what is happening around you. That’s a good start.

“When others turn away from important struggles, try instead to see what needs to be done and do it.

“Try to understand everyone who struggles, even people you don’t know.

“Don’t ask  ‘What’s in it for me?’ Ask, instead, ‘What’s right?’ Then do your best to do it.

“If people call you a ‘do-gooder’, remember that doing good is a whole lot better than doing bad, even if the cynics laugh at you.

“Remember it takes no strength to be unkind. Generosity is a great gift — It always makes you richer. Jesus said: ‘Give without expecting anything in return.’ Remember that.

“Be generous with your friendship, with your possessions and in your thoughts. Share yourself with a world that is very lucky to have you in it. There will never be another you — never in the history of the world.

“Know that God loves you and Jesus is your friend.

“It breaks my heart to think that those truths have been hidden from some children by the wrong some people have done.

“Sometimes God’s love might be hard to see and feel and Jesus might seem to have disappeared. Sometimes it’s confusing.

“But God’s love and Jesus are real and more enduring than anything else.

“You will remain a child of God whether you are good or bad, quiet or loud, hopeful or scared, clear thinking or confused.

“The light of faith and hope will shine all your days, warming your back, lighting your path, bringing joy and laughter. And any darkness that crosses your path will never put it out.

“That is what Christmas means. And yes, it is real.”

 Related news