Dr. RB McFee
Close your eyes just for a moment and think about your happiest childhood Christmas. Let that memory transport you to a powerful emotional place. Feel the smiles. See the people. Hold the gift. Savor the hugs. Smell the aroma of a freshly cut Christmas tree, or maybe the hot chocolate or freshly baked cookies.
Was Santa part of those magical Christmas memories? And if so, can you still feel the powerful sense of belief you had that he would come and fill your stocking or place presents under the tree? Did you believe so strongly it was palpable? Did it give you a sense of comfort that someone kind had an eye on you, cared about you, was willing to share some kindness with you?
Now think about your first Christmas when Jesus became the focal point, when you were old enough to grasp the significance of God giving His Son to us in Bethlehem. Maybe you weren’t at a point where you could comprehend the nuances of the Nativity Story, important though they are, but you understood enough.
Fast forward to today. Are you filled with excitement and a sense of anticipation for the Christ Child? Does Christmas Eve make you want to look up at the sky with an invitation for Jesus to come visit, share a cookie, be Present in your home?
And do you ever consider that some of that sense of wonder is borrowed from what you learned in childhood?
I wonder if believing in Santa made conceptualizing God – also unseen but believed in – a little easier than if jolly old St. Nick wasn’t part of childhood, yours or mine.
For a child, belief in God is, like believing in Santa, a matter of faith, because it is about spirit; that is always a challenge for mortals who are so dependent upon our physical senses.
Sadly there are forces that are trying to eliminate Santa. Hearing about renewed efforts to limit Santa in the lives of children on a recent talk show really saddened me. What’s next, Jesus? Oh wait, He is.
Thinking about the forces at work trying to shorten the specialness of childhood, I came across scriptures where Jesus reminded us we need to be more like children, especially when we approach Him. There are enough experiences and folks to jade kids. Jesus recognized this, and warned the earlier enthusiasm is discouraged, the harder it is to be reclaimed.
I was reminded of our collective responsibility to help protect the childhoods of children when the other night I heard a Christmas song that stopped me in my tracks. I never heard it before. Beyond the beautiful melody were the words. In just a few brief lines the songwriters captured the essence of Christmas – that magic of innocence, that sense of belief that fills the hearts, spirit and imagination.
The song also reminds us of the perennial threat to belief. And it captured the power of an encouraging, trusted source – a father in this case – to guide towards a proper path.
Titled “I believe in Santa Claus,” here are some of the lyrics….
“Me and a friend in the neighborhood
Playing in the snow
He swears there’s no Santa
His big brother told him so
That night I asked my Daddy “Is it true what that boy told me?”
And he said, “Son, I’ll tell you what I know…”
I believe in miracles
In the angels keeping watch,
In innocence that is never lost
I believe in Santa Claus”
Performed by REO Speedwagon. Lyrics from “I believe in Santa Claus” written by Kevin Cronin and Bruce Hall ©2010 Camp Cronin Music
For the record, I believe in miracles, angels keeping watch, innocence, Santa Claus and of course Jesus.
That song reminds us belief, innocence, and what Jesus, what Santa stands for, and practicing them in youth are essential elements in childhood.
We need kindness in this world and kids need a role model who exemplifies generosity, and joy, tolerance, and love. Yes for Christians that ultimate Role Model is Jesus. Thankfully Jesus and Santa aren’t mutually exclusive. But if we can’t help preserve a time of joy and innocence, and use these early years as a means to connect Jesus in their lives the way we do with Santa, how can we expect faith and belief to thrive?
Thankfully our Creator gets us. That is why God came to us in human form. He came as Jesus so that we would have Someone of Infinite Spirit living among us in the physical, being tangible, connecting the unseen God to humanity.
How many of us can still remember the unbridled joy of believing so palpably, filled with an almost electric sense of anticipation for Christmas morning. You could sense Santa had arrived. You would swear that somewhere in the recesses of your mind you heard his reindeer on the roof over your bedroom Christmas Eve.
I wonder, do we still feel that joy, that sense of wonder, that uncontainable anticipation for Jesus on Christmas morning that was experienced at the thought of Santa from our childhood?
Does the sense of awe that must have captured the shepherds on a Bethlehem hillside when they were approached by the Lord’s angel, and His Heavenly Host of messengers, announcing the birth of Jesus, does that fill us?
Do we still get excited at the arrival of Christmas, the arrival of Christ that we did as children?
Do we still feel it?
There are those who want to, need to reclaim the childlike enthusiasm for Christmas. Can we help someone back to the hillside along with the Shepherds, or on the caravan with the Magi.
Christmas is a season of hope. It is the time of miracles. Not just that of eight tiny reindeer toting a slightly fluffy sized gift giver across the planet, but the type of miracles that renew tired spirits, souls that suddenly feel a spark of light even as the long dark winter’s nights threaten us with gloom, that bring reconciliation between estranged people, that promotes generosity in folks otherwise more inwardly focused than looking at those in need.
Can we go back and recharge our Christmas sensibility? Can we help someone else find it?
It is never too late!
Just like the three spirits who visited Scrooge, it is never too late to feel Christmas, to kneel at the foot of the manger. They got a man who all but lost every ounce of childlike anticipation or awe in the birth of Christ, the meaning of Christmas, the Star of wonder, and through some Heavenly guidance, and earthly encouragement, found his way back to Bethlehem.
Jesus is the world’s greatest gift, and Christmas was the night we received God’s ultimate Present, which changed humanity forever. Emmanuel - God made flesh.
Christmas Eve, if we let it, was the night, it is the night that should capture our imagination with the same wonder and awe that we had when we anticipated Santa visiting our home, our heart.
Perhaps we should, like the children in our lives lay awake a little longer on Christmas Eve. Only instead of searching for a sleigh and 8 reindeer, we look up at the stars, and with similar childlike enthusiasm visualize God’s Presence traveling through time and space, from Heaven to earth, to arrive on Christmas morning.
Unless we retain our enthusiasm for Christmas, our sense of anticipation of being the one who welcomes Christ with the same excitement of leaving cookies and milk for Santa, we risk losing the magic of Gods great Gift, and the healing, joy bringing, love infusing power of His Advent Season, of Jesus Himself.
Was Santa a bridge for children, taking them from the mortal world, to conceptualizing the blessed but unseen of the Heavenly realm? Is it how we introduce children to the One who is truly worthy of believing in, Who is the Reason for the Season, that Jesus and Santa can coexist in their hearts leading adults to then never let go of the true Christmas Savior – the Christ?
In an era that is dominated by technology, where the visual dominates nearly every experience, where information, photographs, and activities can be downloaded and shared near instantly, is there still room for belief in that what isn’t seen?
Can we still believe in something or someone greater than ourselves?
If we can’t, then we have certainly missed the memo from Above! After all, isn’t that the very basis of our own religion – believing in that which is unseen, but so far superior to mankind – a loving God who went from a form of infinite spirit to human flesh, just to be more approachable to His creation, even if for only a little while?
Make no mistake about it the song “I believe in Santa” can serve as a powerful reminder that the youthful innocence perhaps long abandoned on the road to adulthood is still there, and should be part of us, if for no other reason, to make glad those who encounter us. But most of all, to resurrect the anticipation, the magic, the awe we once had, and can again, for this most holy of all nights.
I believe in Santa, And…. so much more! Like the salvation that comes from Christ, the love of God, the Presence of the Holy Spirit, and maybe even an unexpected gift in my stocking ‘hung by the chimney with care.’
Wishing you and your family a most blessed, Merry Christmas, filled with wonder, awe, and Christ’s redeeming, healing Presence.