"Merry Christmas!"
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"The Ragamuffin's Christmas"

Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent Day Two: Saint Nick

                                                Saint Nick
       “…That at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow…”

I suppose it’s ironic…or poetic, that the next visitor to this cave is Santa Claus. Ironic because in the Christian circle I formerly tread, Santa was anathema to us. He was here to rob us of the true meaning of Christmas. He was a tool of the devil. It’s poetic for the same reason…
When I was growing up, there was a mindset amongst some believers that Santa was evil. They went looking for "sin" anyplace they could and they squeezed it out of some pretty bizarre places. Playing rock records backwards, (don't we all?) telling stories about women who wear pants being cursed. You know, good solid theology. It wasn’t one church by itself, it was a popular trend in fundamentalist Christianity in that day. They were good people at heart; they just had a really distorted view of God.
Anyway, one particular target was Santa. He was secretly trying to displace Jesus. He was the spawn of Satan. If you rearrange his name you can actually spell Satan! (gasp) He was the leading cause of over-commercialization of Christmas...good solid factual objections.
Personally, I loved the old guy. I still do. I loved reading Clement C. Moore's "The Night Before Christmas" when I was a kid. I watched "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" in clay-mation and never in all that time did I once think of him as displacing Jesus. I never thought of him as dimming my view of that little manger, or the star in the heavens, or the real reason we celebrated. In fact, it was made clear to me that he did what he did every Christmas Eve because he loved Jesus and did all this in His name.
Otherwise he could have picked any night of the year to fly around the world and slide down several billion chimneys delivering toys. In fact, if he wasn't trying to do it all on Jesus' birthday, he could have sent the packages by Fed Ex and turned the reindeer out to stand stud at a breeding farm.
No, Santa was all about Jesus and I knew it. We all did. Nowadays, with Christmas under attack the way it is, Santa might really be our best ally. I mean we are still allowed to talk about him freely so why not go ahead and use him as a springboard to talk about Jesus? When some kid asks, "Why does he do it all on one night?" we can go into Santa's reasons for that particular night.
You see...I think Santa is a Jesus worshiper. I see the whole story as a way of explaining that ultimate Gift. In my mind he doesn't take away from Jesus, he adds to His fame. This legendary man does what he does because that's how he keeps Christmas in his heart. If anybody tried to hijack it and twist it away from Jesus, it was us. The Santa legend wasn't designed to refute Jesus; it was about making Jesus famous. Maybe we ought to take it back. Maybe we should, as I suggested earlier, use Santa as a witnessing tool.
Remember, God used a talking donkey once.
I was proved right as I watched him walking up to a little cave in Bethlehem, removing his red wool hat, pocketing his pipe, checking his red suit for appearance. He is a large man, so he has to bow his head so he can get through the doorway, and taking his place on his knees next to the manger where the poor, homeless, infant savior lies only hours old. He leans in on the little sleeping figure and his eyes well up in amazement.
He is silent for a long time and when he speaks he whispers a hoarse whisper..." You should see the happiness I brought in your honor tonight, my Lord. I did the best I could, but I am not you. I hope you are pleased." Then Santa's shoulders quake a little as the tears flow a more freely. "I didn't bring you anything. I went through my sack, and there was nothing I had that felt appropriate, nothing worthy. So I only have my love, and the contents of my heart. It is you who brings me the joy I give others. It is you who is the Source of my wonderful laugh. I am a giver of gifts on earth, but I do not compare to the gift you bring, sweet child. My only gift to you is my worship and my love...and to let you love me as you desire."
The old man remains quietly on his knees a long, long time, enraptured and lost in the miracle of the infant Savior in the feed trough. Even in the hustle and bustle of the commercialized, de-Christianized world, Santa finds a place amongst the shipwrecked at the stable.
I find myself chuckling silently as I watch this. Christians especially, get so worked up about the secularization of Christmas. I detest the whole “Happy holidays” thing too, but have we really removed Christ from this day? Does that mean that for all these years, our Christmas spirit was actually dependent on Wal-Mart greeters saying “Merry Christmas” when we walked in the doors, or is that just a handy excuse for the fact that I have lost touch with the Advent?
Do I care that my daughter doesn’t have a “Christmas Party” at school anymore? Because she has yet to forget it is Christmas. These thoughts race through my head as I watch this legendary man lost in worship and holding the key figure of all of history in his red-suited arms.
Each Christmas season, the greatest Christmas special ever made plays in prime time. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has run each year since 1964. Each year the beautiful bubbly flow of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” will resound once again as the “Peanuts” gang dances around Schroeder’s piano. Charlie Brown will be unable to reign in his charges, he’ll pick that pathetic little tree and at the height of his despair, he will let out a call “Isn’t there anyone…who knows the real meaning of Christmas?”
And then the moment that reduces me to tears every year like clockwork. Linus will take center stage and say “Lights please” and then he will recite the nativity from Luke chapter 2 verbatim. On national TV… during prime time.
I can’t wait to find out some day how many people wound up finding their way to the stable and to a face to face relationship with Jesus because of that little two-minute interlude. This nation may not be the bastion of Christianity it once was, but we still know why we really celebrate Christmas. Linus never lets us forget.
That was why I never got worked up about Santa Claus with my daughter. Because Jesus Christ is powerful enough to withstand being deposed by a fat man in a red suit. It isn’t even close. Ask a child the true meaning of Christmas and the vast majority will tell you about Jesus. Maybe their theology is off, but they know who the central figure in history is. Everyone does. Santa, elves, reindeer…it makes no difference. The answer to the question; “Why does Santa do all this,” has not changed. He does it to honor the ultimate Gift.
Now some traditions I miss and they should never be messed with. Kenny G should not supplant Frank Sinatra singing Christmas carols. George C. Scott was never the Ebenezer Scrooge that Alastair Sim was. Bruce Springsteen sings the greatest version of Santa Clause is Coming to Town. Ever. But the one truth about Christmas is Jesus.
While they don’t always admit it, everyone knows it. And at Christmas, even Santa bows at the manger and is changed by the touch of a tiny baby. And tonight, for whatever reason God saw fit to allow me to bear witness. I have seen the heart of this giant and legendary figure as the real reason for his existence has come to light. He is touched by this baby, as he was when he Nicholas of Myra a saint of the early church whose acts of kindness inspired this legend.
…to honor his Lord

                            “…behind every vanilla “Happy Holidays”, under    
                                   every sprig of mistletoe and in every cup of
                              Christmas cheer…there is the truth of this baby in
                                      Bethlehem. There is no denying this…”

                                                            --Brennan Manning

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