Move over Santa
Preacher: The Very Revd Adrian Newman, Dean (2005-2011)
6 December 2008, 12:30 (Dickens Christmas Festival)
I want to ask a really profound question this afternoon. Does Santa Claus really exist? And if he does, how does he manage the impossible task of delivering presents to the world’s good little girls and boys in a single chilly December night?
This question has stirred the imagination and emotions of much of the earth’s population, and calls for an objective analysis.
Santa’s first obstacle is that no known species of reindeer can fly. However, scientists estimate that out of the earth’s roughly 2 million species of living organisms, 300,000 or so have yet to be classified. So, even though most of these undiscovered species are insects and germs, we can’t rule out the slight possibility that a species of flying reindeer does, in fact, exist. And that no one besides Santa has ever seen one.
A bigger obstacle for Santa is that there are 2 billion children under the age of 18 in the world. At an average rate of 3.5 children per household, Santa has a backbreaking 92 million homes to visit on any Christmas Eve.
Thanks to the rotation of the earth, Santa has 31 hours of Christmas Eve darkness to visit all these homes if he travels from east to west. Unfortunately, this still works out at 800 visits per second. So, for each household, Santa has just over a thousandth of a second to land, hop out of his sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the rest of the presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left out, get back up the chimney, climb back into the sleigh and take off and fly to the next house.
How fast is Santa moving? Assuming all the 92 million stops are spread evenly over the earth’s landmass, Santa must travel 72,522,000 miles – or just under a mile per household. Given the 31-hour time period, Santa’s sleigh must maintain an average speed of 650 miles per second, or more than 3,000 times the speed of sound.
Let’s take a closer look at Santa’s vehicle. First of all, assuming a kilo of presents per child, the sleigh must be able to carry a load of 321,000 tons. That means Santa’s massive sleigh has to be drawn by 214,000 beasts. Assuming they are harnessed two abreast six feet from the next pair, they would create a chain approximately 121.7 miles long.
As for Santa, he will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than gravity and be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4million pounds of force.
320,000 tons of sleigh, reindeer and presents are going to create an enormous amount of air resistance – especially at 650 miles per second. This air resistance will produce so much heat that the lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14 quintillion joules of energy per second each, causing them to ignite almost instantly, and thereby exposing the reindeer behind them to the thermal blast. All 214,000 reindeer will be vaporised within one 4,000th of a second and create a catastrophic thermal explosion. Which only goes to prove that if Santa Claus does exist, this is extremely bad news for our world......
I’ve never completely understood the attraction of believing in Father Christmas. Maybe it’s just that the idea of a jovial kindly man handing out presents to little children is inherently attractive, or perhaps it’s our way of justifying a massive winter spending spree. Either way, Santa and his presents are a long way from the people who first inspired the idea of gifts at Christmas, the three wise men who travelled from the East to find the infant Jesus bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
What would it take to transform our experience of giving this Christmas? Just look around the shops heaving with people, and what are they buying? More stuff to add to a table already dripping with unwanted or unnecessary consumption.
Have you come across ‘buy nothing day’? It’s an attempt to dissuade people from buying stuff that no one really needs - as if we can only produce an economy based on continual consumption. I of course would join in but as the worst shopper in the world most of my days are buy nothing days anyway.
The problem with our approach to Christmas is that giving has lost its value. We say ‘what do you buy for the man who has everything?’ as if this is a rarity, but actually we have ALL got everything we really need. What does a gift add to what we already have?
So I want to ask if there’s a secret in the story of the three wise men that can help us as we prepare for the annual Christmas present scramble.
We don’t know much about this famous trio. We do know they were the intellectual elite of Persia and came from modern day Iraq (and there must be another sermon in that alone). We do know that they were outsiders, foreigners. We do know they travelled many miles in search of a special star. We do know they became embroiled in Herod’s political power plays, and we do know they finally discovered the infant Jesus, and that these three mysterious characters were the first in the whole wide world to worship him.
Let me pick out just a single thought from the gifts these 3 men brought. It’s this: the giving of the three wise men was life-changing for Mary, Joseph and Jesus. It’s not often you can say that about a Christmas present! But those gifts, laid at the feet of the holy family, liberated a completely new set of possibilities in the lives of the holy family.
What did they bring: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Has it ever struck you how completely inappropriate those gifts were? Here they were coming to a ragged family giving birth to a poor child in conditions of utter squalor and they bought presents fit for a king. Just what was going on?
Well the gold, frankincense and myrrh symbolised the possibility of a new and special future for Jesus’ family and gave them inspiration to follow a new path. These were gifts that empowered Mary and Joseph to fulfil a destiny that they may have thought far beyond them.
When those three men brought those gifts to Mary, Joseph and Jesus it was as if they were saying to them ‘the world thinks you have no value, the world sees you as a poor couple giving birth to a vulnerable child in desperate conditions. The world places no value on you. Look, it can’t even find you a room to give birth in. But we see you differently, we see your future differently, we see your potential differently. And in these gifts that we lay before you, we offer you the possibility of a different future.
How rarely do we buy presents for people like that? Now I’m not suggesting that you go crazy with this idea, but think about it. That grandson of yours, the one who seems to have everything and if you’re really honest, you wonder if his parents pamper him a bit too much and it seems to be making him a bit selfish. What would happen if you bought him as a present a sponsorship of an endangered animal or even sponsored a child from a poor Third World village in his name – made sure that he got the information, the pictures, the letters, and so on? Could it be that your gift might hold out to your grandson the possibility of a different destiny, one in which he learns care and compassion for those less fortunate than him. Is that idealistic? Maybe it is but you’ll never know until you try.
Or what about that sister of yours, the one who seems to have taken the death of her husband so badly and doesn’t seem to embrace life with any enthusiasm anymore. What would happen if you bought her for Christmas a session with a beautician? Could it be that an enforced makeover might help her rediscover some self-confidence and self-esteem, and enable her to see herself as a fine, independent woman once more with a lot to offer the world? Who knows? You can only try.
Wise men bring gifts that change the recipient, open up new horizons, offer new possibilities and bring inspiration to embrace life differently. That baby, who unknowingly received those gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, grew up to become an amazing human being and change the world. He in turn comes to us this Christmas and offers us life-changing gifts – forgiveness, unconditional love, renewed purpose, a relationship with God restored.
This is an offering unlike anything you will find at Bluewater, or even down Rochester High Street, because this gift doesn’t try to paper over the cracks in our lives with material possessions. Instead it holds out the promise of a new destiny freed from all the constricting burdens of our past and alive to all the new possibilities for the future.
So move over Santa. Even if you did exist, your gifts flatter to deceive. Bring on the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Bring on the wise men. Bring on the Christ child, born to set us free and inspire us to new ways of living. Happy Christmas indeed!