A few years ago, I saved Christmas.
Normally that would sound like a misleading headlines, designed to grab a reader in and then impress you with my wit as I try to explain what I really meant.
But I do literally mean that. I saved Christmas. Father Christmas, to be exact.
I was on an American road-trip, with my great friend Jamie. We’d begun in the metropolis machine of New York, and had now driven our way across to Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was early December, and starting to get a bit chilly.
So one night, Jamie, myself and a few other Tulsinian friends ventured downtown to hear some carol singing. We walked the city, saw the lights, and then came across Father Christmas, along with his wife – named, Mother Christmas, I think.
They were the real-deal. Both were delightfully old, and had faces that were warm and inviting. The beard was legitimate, the wrinkles were real, and their smiles and rich Southern accents oozed authenticity.
We chatted to them both, shared our Christmas wish-lists, and then moved on to get hot chocolate. We wandered. And then, as we went back to our rental car to head off – we saw an unusual site.
Father Christmas, trying to break into the car next to us.
At first, we were flummoxed. Wasn’t Santa meant to travel by sleigh? And wasn’t he meant to give gifts – not steal them?
But a quick conversation later, and we realised the problem. Mother Christmas had been getting too cold, so had taken one of their cars home. Only – she had both sets of keys in her jacket – leaving Santa short of a ride.
He didn’t know what to do – and was about to ask the police if they could assist him in breaking in. We had a better idea – and offered to take him home.
He jumped in the car, we put on appropriate Christmas carols – and had a delightful 20 minutes of taking Father Christmas home – knowing that we had done the world a favour.
Now, the more astute reader will note – that we were in all likelihood not carrying the real Father Christmas at all. Instead, we were carrying an ordinary man, who had lived in Tulsa his whole life.
And with them – I’d agree. Apart from one little word – ‘ordinary.’
See, according to the story of Christmas, there’s a husband and wife who live a mystical life in the North Pole. They oversee a team of elves, who create toys – which Santa and his magical reindeer deliver across the globe on Christmas Eve.
According to the story of scientism – the belief that science is the only way of knowing – the person sitting in the car with us was a mixture of organic chemicals and compounds. His life was determined entirely by his environment and the way these factors drove his decision making.
And according to the story of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures – this man is one who bears the thumbprint of the divine on every aspect of his life. This is one who is no mere mortal, but is crowned and charged with possibility and mystery in their very being.
This is one thing I love about a worldview that transcends scientism, or materialistic determinism – it makes your world that much bigger.
See, pure scientism – think Richard Dawkin’s atheism – says that what-you-see-is-what-you-get. There is no room for magic, for mystery or for miracle. It is all science and can all be empirically proven.
In all of human history – there cannot be one miracle. Not one moment of enchantment. Not one sense of spiritual mystery. If there was – even just one little answered prayer – the entire scientism castle would come crashing down.
As G. K. Chesterton quipped,
“If the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos. The real thing has shrunk. The whole of life is something much more grey, narrow, and trivial than many separate aspects of it. The parts seem greater than the whole.”
Far from being small-minded – the Christian worldview offers a perspective that includes science – but goes wider than it. It acknowledges that science is a fantastic way of knowing – but it does not tell the whole picture.
It enjoys scientific discovery, and seeking to explore the order behind everything we see. And yet, it is open to those rules being broken and transcended – because it recognises that there is Someone bigger than science.
Thus we can have a neurosurgeon praying for his patient. The perfect marriage of scientific rigour and training, along with a recognition that perhaps there is another helper in the room. We can have philosophers who believe in miracles. We can have theologians who apply methods of science to their study of God – and then worship with heart-felt abandon at the one they enjoy.
This is the joy of life. C.S. Lewis also noted that believing in miracles doesn’t mean disbelieving in science. Instead – we have to know the rules of the world, for a miracle to happen. It’s the playful breaking of the rules that makes a miracle – not an ignorance of them.
We know that water doesn’t turn into wine. That’s what makes it so delightfully good when it does.
We know that sickness is fought by an immune system, and can be supported by medicine. That’s what makes it so delightfully great when a miraculous healing occurs.
Blind people don’t suddenly see. We don’t get insights into what’s going to happen. We can’t scientifically discover what latent dreams lie on a person’s heart.
We know this – and yet, we see it happen. This is the delight of mystery, and the beauty of the world. And we need a story of everything that includes this mystery and delight.
So maybe I didn’t save Santa. Maybe I didn’t save Christmas. But I did enjoy time with one who is made in the image of God, and one who contains more mystery and worth than science would ever allow.
And, who knows? As the book of Hebrews says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Angels in your workplace? Amongst the poor? On the side of the road, needing a ride?
That sounds more real to me, more than anything a scientism can tell.
Here’s to mystery, the unknown and a life of faith and adventure – discovering as we follow.