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The Ministry Fantasy
Christmas Message--1999

Thomas F. Fischer

Number 336
Fantasy can be fun. Letting one’s imagination run wild can sometimes give individuals a sense of relief or euphoria from the routine of daily living. Small children often engage in fantasy in their play, even developing imaginary friends. These fantasies are healthy and facilitate a child’s ability to develop various developmental skills needed later in life.
In many ways Christmas is also a fantasy. One need only reflect on many of the songs of Christmas to discover that. How many people have "chestnuts roasting on an open fire?" Does anyone hear "sleigh bells" outside their door? What percentage of the world’s population actually has a "white Christmas"? If Christmas is, indeed, a "silent night, holy night" why are law enforcement officials on the job investigating break-ins which occur on Christmas Eve?
All sentimentality aside, who has ever seen flying reindeer? Given two billion children under people, even if all of these children under the age of eighteen were not "naughty" but "nice," how could Santa possibly visit even just the 15% of children that don’t believe in Santa—Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist? Pastors know how difficult it can be to get in even 20 or 30 more home visits a month. How is Santa going to visit 91.8 million homes in less than 12 hours, plus or minus a few to adjust for time zones?
The Christmas Fantasy Exposed
Dirk Talasse in his article Santa Claus: Scientific Inquiry Into the Virginia Postulate posits that it in order for Santa to make these visits the total Christmas trip would be 75.5 million miles at the speed of 650 miles per second…nearly 3000 times the speed of sound. Given that "conventional" reindeer can run approximately 15 miles per hour—with a tail wind, tops—something seems strangely out of whack. Just imagine the "G-forces" that Santa would experience from over four million pounds of force. (I hope none of the gifts fly off the sleigh!)
One must also, however, consider the drag of a sleigh carrying approximately 321,300 tons of toys (estimating one small toy for each of the children in the 91.8 million homes). Of course, we all know that Santa himself, at well over 300 pounds, doesn’t help lighten the payload either. Can nine reindeer—including the magical one with that funny red nose—do the job? Not at all. Talasse estimates that one would need over 353, 430 reindeer to provide enough "horse" power to pull this off. And the deer still can’t fly.
If this whole consortium of deer, sleigh, tons of gifts and a jolly fat man in red could get off the ground, the combination of speed and the resulting heat from air resistance would create heat far more intense than that experienced by space vehicles during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. Absorbing 14.4 quintillion joules of energy per second, the entire reindeer team would vaporize in 4.26 thousandths of a second.
Unfortunately, Christianity also promotes the fantasy. As if being overwhelmed with the out-of-control materialism which marks Christmas isn’t enough, how can intelligent, thoughtful Christians imagine that "the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes" could in any way be true? Did Jesus not cry? How else did this holy infant make His needs known? Telepathy? Dreams? The bat qol?
Perhaps the biggest problem with fantasy is that it becomes a substitute for reality. When the fun of fantasy—including the Christmas fantasy—begins to take on a quasi-reality, this fantasy becomes an instrument of denial. Perhaps the biggest problem with Christmas is that so much of what we hear, experience and celebrate is based on a denial-based fantasy.
The Real Christmas
The real message of Christmas is quite different from the fantasy. Jesus, the newborn member of the human family, was not "cutchy-cooed" and loved by all. Members of the family didn’t even want Him. How many hundreds of relatives did Mary and Joseph both have in Bethlehem?
Yet not one family member appears to have helped in the least. Naked, hungry and without a place to stay, the worst thing was not that there no room in the inn. The worst thing was that no family would help or assist in any way. "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." So much for the fantasy of the "family get-together."
Within days of His birth, still in the "euphoric" twelve days of Christmas, Simeon announced that this child would die a horrific death. This news of His ignominious fate certainly did not result in a chorus of "Deck the Halls."
Perhaps isolated outside the village limits of Bethlehem, the Christmas family did not have a tree, lights or gifts. All they had was a crisis…and too little to make do. A Baby was being born…and all they had was a place with animals, hay and a manger.
But the Baby, nonetheless, was born—rejected, isolated and alone in a sinful world bent toward His destruction. Remarkably, this one called Immanuel gave us what we needed most: a rooting in the reality that God IS with us.
The Ministry Fantasy
As many are driven by the Christmas fantasy, many in ministry are driven by a ministry fantasy. We believe that everything should be perfect, celebrative, loving. There should be no conflict, no disappointment, no rejection and no pain.
Isn’t it interesting how the Christmas fantasy has so much in common with the ministry fantasy. As the Christmas fantasy obscures, occludes and hides the reality of Christmas, so the ministry fantasy also obscures and hides the reality of the experience of ministry.
The reality is that both Christmas and ministry entail rejection, disappointment, dashed expectations, neglecting God’s gifts, etc. The sending of the infant Jesus to be our Savior gives us the greatest reality. In spite of what we experience, God really is with us. As long as we do not give up that reality, the reality of a ministry rooted in the proclamation of Law and Gospel will do exactly what God intends: destroy the fantasies that perpetuate sin and create real faith, real ministry, real hopes.
As the Christmas song proclaims, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight." Real Christmas and real ministry is full of hopes and full of fears. In Christ, however, the hope is greater than the fear. Indeed, Christ’s presence with us overshadows that fear.
That is the message the angels gave at the very first announcement of Christ’s birth:
"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)
That is the reality of Christmas. This reality is greater than any fantasy. It is the reality of grace, of comfort, and of joy. Even as God has been with us in past millennia, His promise is to be with us in the coming millennium. "Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel has come to you, O Israel!"
Thomas F. Fischer

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