Will the real Emmanuel please stand up?

This was originally posted at EpinoiaCafe.com.

I never lied to my kids about Santa. They asked me if Santa was real, and I said Yes! They asked who he was, and I said he was a pretend guy, an idea that inspires us to be kind and generous and give people presents on Christmas. Those kids are grown now, so the subject hasn’t come up for a while.

But we have a new kid now, who’s just four this year. When he announced to me that Santa would be bringing presents and putting them under our tree, I was a bit surprised. (Turns out he learned this from the internet.) Once I recovered from the shock, though, I said “Ok, but since Santa’s pretend, Mama and Papa will have to help.”

You might be noticing here that there’s a similarity between Santa and Jesus. We are his hands and his feet. We are inspired by his model, and his love flows through us. That might be because when I came up with this story, my heart was longing to see Jesus, and couldn’t.

In fact, the other day that same kid asked me “What’s Jesus Christ?” I said he’s my invisible friend. “You know how you have Cubix? Jesus is like that, except I think Jesus is real, and not pretend like Cubix.”

But really, I don’t have a clear idea that Jesus is “real” and Cubix–let alone Santa–is “pretend”. In a sense, they’re all pretend, and in another sense, they’re all real. Each of them has various factors on both sides.

And I enjoy spending hours in contemplation, reading complex theological stuff. But he doesn’t have that to lean on. He just wants a straight answer from me. So the best I could come up with is that Jesus is my real, invisible friend and brother, who I love very much, and he loves me in a way that no other invisible friend does.

The Stories

So here I am, a post-secular-humanist, post-modern follower of Christ, trying to decide what to tell the kids.

Last night (Christmas Eve), the kids stayed at home while we attended a beautiful service. We listened to stories about how Jesus was born in Bethlehem (which I understand is almost certainly not true) of a virgin (questionable) under a moving star (nonsensical!). We talked about the old-fashioned (that is, “modern”) stories instead of talking about the real beauty, from my perspective, which is God’s light coming into the world to heal us.

I don’t oppose myth and metaphor; I just don’t find the old ones encouraging anymore. They don’t help me connect to God.

I know this sounds crazy. Maybe unchristian. This is part of what I meant when I talked recently about what it’s like to be coming to Christianity from the outside. It makes sense to me that someone who grew up with these myths might want to relive them, and squeeze out every drop of metaphor. But the stories don’t speak to me, and they don’t speak to my kids.

The older ones are simply uninterested in Christian mythology, and can’t see what looks to me like the truth of Jesus Christ because of that. The younger one? Well, I could bring him to Sunday school, but I won’t lie to him about Jesus any more than I will lie to him about Santa. He lived, he brought us love, he was killed for his beautiful message. He lives today, in our hearts, and God is with us always. Where can I find a Sunday school that will teach him that?