After the storms of controversy surrounding the question of whether Sleeping Beauty gave her consent (or whether consent was implied by necessity), a host of other familiar narratives have been called into question. Perhaps most notable at this time of year, concerns the practices of Saint Nicholas – otherwise known as Santa Claus. It is difficult, after all, to imagine anyone being guilty of breaking and entering on such a global scale. I can’t help wondering whether his name is going show up in the Paradise Papers on account of all those ‘gifts.’ Or whether Wikileaks might expose evidence of Russian collusion in Rudolf’s meteoric rise from 9th to ‘Lead Reindeer.’
One thing is for sure. Saint Nicholas first shot to fame on account of punching a heretic! It was in the year 325, at the council of Nicea, an ancient international ecclesiastical version of Governing Body. And Nicholas chose profoundly not to appreciate the input of one of the council delegates, Arius. So he punched him. He was promptly banged up in a cell but in the middle of the night, he had a vision. Where allegedly Christ came to him and asked, ‘Hey Nicholas, why are you locked up in prison?’ And Nicholas said, ‘because I love you.’
I love you so much, I punched him! And on account of this, Nicholas became Saint Nicholas. That is pretty much the view most people have had of religion since the 18th Century: I love you so much, I’m going to hurt them… only because I love you, you understand.
Well, I hasten to add this story is not in the Bible! The Bible offers a rather different picture of love. Into a world where it was commonplace to punch a heretic, to employ violence and sometimes assume the support of divine violence, against those with whom you disagree. And when this Jesus was born into the world, it was assumed he would end the cycle of violence by battering the oppressors, and those who opposed God.
The reality, of course, was a figure who sought to end the cycle of violence. And he ended up crushed in the machinery of a violent social and political reality.
This is why we tend not to celebrate the yuletide season by punching a heretic, but by offering gifts – to become an embodiment of the grace and the self-giving love demonstrated in the Jesus about whom the readers have spoken, the choir have sung