It is a basic, fundamental question, something that many more people are concerned about than the classic "Is there a Santa Claus?" There are few Americans who go to sleep nights wondering about the authenticity of Mr. Jolly. But there are probably millions who harbor either private doubts or private faith regarding the newborn baby who started all this 2,000 years ago.
Is he real? Was God reborn into this world as a helpless infant? And does it make any measurable difference today?
The witnesses were few and amounted to a most unimpressive assortment of folk. Not the kind of evidence calculated to impress a skeptical world! A young girl, probably in her early teens, not even married. Joseph, more than twice her age, a woodworker without credentials. A bunch of dirty sheep chasers, not only uneducated but also unvalued. These people had the credibility of the modern-day homeless.
And then some traveling wise guys, who were convinced that they would find something at the palace. They had to be redirected to Bethlehem by the king - and he wanted to know only so he could murder any potential threat to his power.
And that might be the key to the whole thing. This child - this wet, squawking infant - does more to threaten the prevailing status quo of our world that any arsenal of nuclear warheads. Then, as now, the specter of a Prince of Peace so unnerved the power structure that his message was distorted and his followers persecuted.
The most compelling verification, though, of the reality of Christmas today is not to be found in Crystal Cathedrals, the crowds at St. Peter's Square or the massive illuminated trees at Rockefeller Center and the White House lawn. Those expressions merely affirm the social frameworks that support them.
Go, instead, to a bombed-out church in the Middle East, where Christians will gather quietly with hand-held candles. Follow the Catholic child in Northern Ireland who takes her own treasure and shares it with her Protestant friend against the mores of her community. Break bread with the destitute in Tampa who are helped by people who believe that Jesus came for everyone. Light candles at an Advent service and understand that the spirit of this season is as alive and well as the peace that will greet you there.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Prince of Peace. I think that Fred Rogers of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" put it well. The occasion was an interview on one of the final Arsenio Hall shows. Arsenio suggested that "it would be easier to believe if God still did big impressive things like the Old Testament miracles."
Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, quickly replied, "But God's revealing evidence is everywhere; you just have to look for it."
And that, Virginia, is where you will find the Prince of Peace. His revealing evidence is everywhere. We just have to open our eyes.
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