A child sits on Santa's lap, whispering into his ear her deepest desires, telling Santa exactly what she wants this year because she's been so very, very good. She knows Santa's watching her every day from his home high above her at the North Pole. Even though she can't see him, he’s watching. She's been told so often that he knows when she's been good or bad, knows if she's naughty or nice. And if she's good, she'll get nice presents, but if she's bad, she won't. She must please Santa to be rewarded.
The same child kneels before her bed in the evening, whispering her prayers to God, thanking Him for the good thinks in her life and telling Him what she wants. She knows God's watching her every day from his home high above her in Heaven. Even though she can't see Him, He’s watching. She's been told so often that He knows whether or not she has been behaving, knows if she has thought bad thoughts or wanted to do bad things. If she's good, she'll go to Heaven, but if she's bad, she won't. She must please God to be rewarded.
Then one Christmas Eve, the girl tiptoes down to her Christmas tree long after she should have been asleep and sees her mother putting more presents under the tree, eating the cookies on the plate nearby. There's no reindeer on the roof, no fat man in a red suit, heck, there's not even a chimney.
Why wouldn't she also question God's existence?
Christmas. Adults. Nope, they just don't go together. By the time we're adults, most of us have one of two standard perspectives of Christmas, both equally sad. Either the Christmas Story is nothing more than a story, no more real than a jolly man who lives far above us at the North Pole with his helper elves. Or, the events surrounding Jesus' birth are so familiar and comfortable that we can no longer see the miracles in them - those events, why that's just the way things are.
We learn about Christmas as young children. The story is broken down so we can understand it: Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem on a donkey. There, the Virgin Mary gave birth to a little boy in a stable, because there was no room at the inn. She put him in a manger and the cattle lowed. Three wise men came to visit and brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh. This baby was Jesus, that guy hanging on a cross in other pictures. God's son, an important person who would become a leader.
As children, we don’t know what a virgin is. Even if we do, storks bring babies, so so what? We don’t know that a manger is a food trough, that animals smell and are filthy and can be really mean. We don’t understand that hay is itchy and can be full of bugs.
As children, we expect people to visit new babies; we expect birthday presents. We know gold’s nice. We probably think frankincense and myrrh were normal baby presents back in the day, like diapers and strollers now. Even as adults, we probably don’t stop to think that these are items used to prepare a body for burial.
As children, it seems perfectly logical that someone who is going to be a great leader starts off very poor and regular-seeming. Look at Abraham Lincoln, Einstein, Nelson Rockefeller, Obama! and every other great person we’re encouraged to be like when we’re young school children. We are taught that the way to success, to become great, is to start off with almost nothing and pull ourselves up by our boot straps. For Jesus to be born poor and be the Son of God that will save his people, that is no miracle.
And yet, as adults, when we should be able to look at these pieces in the context of biology, of history, of society, when we should be able to understand that a unmarried woman who has never had sex just can’t suddenly become pregnant, when we should be able to understand how awful it would be to sleep in a barn with some animals, or how scary it might be for a mother to receive burial ointments at the birth of her son, when we should be able to contemplate how much it would suck to walk for days and days, how uncomfortable it is to sit on a donkey or how difficult it is to get a donkey to do what you want, when we should be able to really get all the many miracles and the hardships in the story, we don’t think about them at all. It’s Christmas; it’s normal; it happens every year. And the magic is lost, as lost as if we didn’t believe at all.