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(Based on a column by Francis P. Church, 1897)
A little over 100 years ago a young girl named Virginia wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper asking if there really is a Santa Claus. The answer to that letter has become a perennial Christmas favorite: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
A century later, in this politically correct world, people may have more difficulty believing in Jesus than in Santa Claus. Christmas concerts are now “Holiday Shows;” all around us Christ is being written out of Christmas. So imagine with me if a similar letter to the editor was written today.
I am 8 years old and my name is Virginia. In 1897, my great-aunt wrote you a letter asking “Is there a Santa Claus?” As I look around me this Christmas I have no trouble believing there is a Santa Claus. I see him everywhere I go. I am wondering about Jesus. I don’t see Him as much as I used to. The manger scene is gone from our city hall. They made us take the word “Christ” out of our Christmas songs because they said “The word Christ implies Jesus was God.” My favorite artist recorded a Christmas album that went to number one. I heard him say in an interview, “Christmas is a special time to get together with family and friends, and not necessarily a religious experience.” My friends at school tell me Jesus was just a man. You helped my great-aunt with her question, so I hope you will help me with my question. Is Jesus really God?
Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. Like so many people around them, they do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be adult’s or children’s, are little.
Yes, Virginia, Jesus Christ is really God. Listen to God’s word from the Gospel of John you hear each Christmas day. He exists as certainly as love, generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give your life its highest beauty and joy. All these gifts come from Jesus. He is God’s Word. The first word God ever spoke in creating the world was Jesus and the last word God will speak when He welcomes us to heaven will be Jesus.
Alas, how dreary would the world be if Jesus Christ had not been born in Bethlehem. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias...because you too are God’s child. Without Jesus there would be no true faith, no real poetry, and no lasting romance. Through Him all good things come to be. Apart from Him nothing good comes to be. Without Jesus life would be a drag.
As the Gospel says, nobody has seen God. But the most real things in the world are those that neither children nor adults can see. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders of God but they are as real as the presents under your Christmas tree.
We have not seen God, but in Jesus’ day, people saw Him love His neighbor, cure the sick, feed the hungry, raise the dead, and give His life in love. And those who opened their hearts to Him knew He was God. You may not see Jesus in the manger of your city hall, or you may not be allowed to sing about Christ in your Christmas songs, but every time someone loves a neighbor, every time a sick person is healed, every time a hungry person receives some food, and every time someone we love dies and goes to God, Jesus the Savior comes again. Jesus Christ is everywhere you look, as long as you look.
Is Jesus Christ really God? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else more real and abiding. He will continue to make glad the hearts of all people who believe in Him and follow Him from now until the end of time...and beyond. If only they would do what you have done. If only more people would join you, Virginia, in looking for Jesus, in knowing in their hearts that Jesus is God, and in living as His brothers and sisters every day of the year. You have followed your heart. By asking your questions of God you have opened yourself to God’s answer. The answer to the longings of every human heart is Jesus Christ.
Yes, Virginia, Jesus is God. And never before has the world needed more to hear the message of Christmas. And never before has it been more important to believe in Him and to follow His ways. The best gift we can give Jesus this Christmas is to follow His way of love.
Merry Christmas to you Virginia, and to all God’s children.
Father Richard Erikson is vicar general and moderator of the curia of the archdiocese of Boston.