That earthly fathers are critical in the lives of children is reinforced by the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, was provided with Joseph to care for Him and His mother. God, the Creator, was fully capable of providing Jesus with anything He needed. Yet during the early life of Jesus, it was not God who directly influenced His life, but God through Joseph. It was Joseph who took the family to Egypt to save them following a dream. It was Joseph who taught Jesus the cultural interrelationships necessary to survive in their world. It was Joseph who provided the opportunities for Jesus to know God by teaching him the traditions and laws of his Jewish faith and by taking him to the temple in Jerusalem. And it was Joseph who loved Jesus in a way that no one else on earth could. These functions – protection, socialization, role modeling, imparting values and traditions, and providing an emotionally stable base – are still enacted by earthly fathers today.
Why did God, in His wisdom, provide this relationship in our lives? According to Unity thought and the science of human development, two primary reasons exist.
The first reason involves cognitive and emotional development. The human brain is not fully developed until one’s early 20’s and cannot fully comprehend ideas involving abstract spiritual issues until that time. An earthly father performs the required nurturing for that development in a concrete manner that a child can see and understand.
The second reason involves the concept of free will. God emphatically promised that He would never violate our free will. Even when one asks for something that would not be healthy, God says “yes” unless (according to Unity thought) one gives God permission to say “no” by adding “only if what I am requesting falls within Your divine plan for my life” to one’s request. An earthly father, in contrast, must lovingly violate the free will of a child on a regular basis to fulfill his purpose. In this manner, a child learns appropriate emotional, social, physical, spiritual, and sexual boundaries through natural and logical consequences. An earthly father readies a child for the time when he must exercise his own wisdom in asking things in prayer for his life from his heavenly Father.
The 19th Century witnessed the birth of a fully American tradition, Santa Claus. Clement Moore, a Protestant minister, wrote “The Night Before Christmas” and based his character on one of the popular saints in the Middle Ages. The feast of Saint Nicholas was celebrated on December 6th when good children would receive gifts and bad children did not.
Santa Claus role models the first step in moving away from the concrete teacher of “father” toward the concept of a teacher based on faith. As do earthly fathers, the concept of Santa Claus also encourages appropriate behavioral boundaries and begins to incorporate the element of self-evaluation with free will (have I been naughty or nice?). Santa also emphasizes the importance of childhood and play, role models generosity and dependability, and encourages child-like faith.
As David Church wrote in his famous newspaper letter to Virginia more than 100 years ago, “Even if you do not see him, what would that prove? The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.” And does not the loving, generous spirit of Santa Claus live inside those of us who cherish those childhood memories? Does it not move us to such attitudes and behaviors toward others? It should…. It is a developmental step in accepting and understanding the spirit of God that moves us to love and care for others.
All things can move out of balance. Santa Claus cannot be blamed for society’s materialism and greed, just as God cannot be blamed for making us ill as we pollute our water, air, and food with harmful chemicals. Far from it. Just as Jesus stands as the standard of comparison for just how out of balance we allow ourselves to get as adults, Santa stands as a measure of just how out of balance adults have allowed things to get in the world of childhood. We need to get back to the real meaning behind the legend….
For residents of Columbus, Georgia, who seek a spiritual community during the holiday season, the following five Unity churches are also within driving distance:
- Unity of Albany (GA) – approximately 75 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 178 Hugh Road, Leesburg, GA. Phone: (229) 435-1001.
- Unity of Montgomery (AL) Spiritual Center – approximately 77 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 1922 Walnut Street, Montgomery, AL 36106. Phone: (334) 263-1225.
- Unity in the Heart of Georgia (Byron, GA) – approximately 78 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 127 Peachtree Parkway #701, Byron, GA. Phone: (478) 737-7537.
- Unity South Atlanta Church (Jonesboro, GA) – approximately 84 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 10 a.m. on Sundays is 7541 Mt. Zion Boulevard, Jonesboro, GA. Phone: (404) 578-3033.
- Unity of Dothan (AL) – approximately 90 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 942 South Oates, Dothan, AL 36301. Phone: (334) 794-2840.
Available on Amazon include the following: (1) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens ($6.66 in paperback); and (2) The Night Before Christmas by Tom Browning and Clement C. Moore ($10.17 in hardcover).