Examples of faith abound at this time of year. There is the faith children put in Santa Claus to bring them stuff that magically no one seems to have paid for. Call it a "bailout" for kids.
There is adult faith which believes that a Bernard Madoff can do what no one else can: guarantee a consistent rate of return on money invested with him while others who invest the legal and old-fashioned way experience the normal ebb and flow of the stock market.
Then there is the messianic-like faith many have placed in Barack Obama, the faux messiah of our time, who has been sent by the political gods to deliver us, if not from our sins, than at least from George W. Bush. Those who place their faith in Obama see him as god-like and Bush as the devil. These metaphors serve them well as substitutes for the genuine articles, in whom they either do not believe or have re-created in their own image.
A Broadway play and film called "Doubt" has won fans, many of whom probably do when it comes to God. Bill Maher made a movie about faith, mocking those who believe in God and ignoring the warnings, "The fool has said in his heart 'There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1) and "the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Corinthians 1:18). If Maher thinks the Christmas story is foolish, isn't that evidence he is perishing?
Shoplifting increases during the Christmas season and so does its spiritual equivalent: those who want the blessings of Christmas without paying the price. Laura Miller, a staff writer for Salon, engaged in this practice in a New York Times column, "It's a Narnia Christmas." Miller said about the C.S. Lewis classic, "That I'm not a Christian doesn't much hinder my enjoyment of either the holiday or the book."
Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" series was not meant solely to entertain, though entertaining it is. The books are metaphors for great truths. Elsewhere, Lewis writes that those who claim Jesus as just a great teacher have it wrong. Lewis said Jesus is either who He said He is -- the Son of God -- or a liar, a fool, or deranged. Call him anything you like, said Lewis, but don't call Him a great teacher. That is an option He does not allow. Besides, how can anyone be a great teacher if he teaches something that is not true?
The mockers and doubters, like the poor, have always been with us. They have nothing new to say. Their unbelief is as familiar as it is predictable.
Faith is a gift, the ultimate gift. It is of far greater and eternal value than anything to be found under a Christmas tree. While clothes and toys wear out or are forgotten, faith lasts. It has the additional benefit of already having been bought and paid for by Someone else. It is the "substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).
Faith cannot be taught (though teaching plays a role). No one is argued to faith, which is why it is fruitless to debate those who lack it. Better to demonstrate the faith one has than berate and belittle people who do not yet have it.
Christmas offers an opportunity to again consider what matters most. Especially this year with the anemic economy and multiple challenges to our misplaced faith in prosperity and politicians, now would be a good time to consider the song lyric: "Fame, if you win it, comes and goes in a minute. Where's the real stuff in life to cling to?"
The answer to that question is to be found where it has always been: Start in the manger and then move to the cross and the empty tomb and consider the carol, "where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in."
You don't have that kind of faith? You asked someone for a Christmas gift, didn't you? Ask God for the ultimate gift.