At my former job, one of the other employees would announce his entrance into a room by saying, “Here come the fat man.” And, although it was always nice to see him, a little part of my brain thought excitedly, “Santa???!!!!!”
Because I LOVE Santa.
From the top of his curly white head to the bottom of his heavy-booted toes. Maybe you’ve met people who love to point out at Christmas that Jesus is “the reason for the season,” and I guess I could try to work up a grudge against Santa for stealing the Baby Jesus’s thunder … but frankly, I just don’t have it in me.
I do understand what these Santa grinches are saying … but Santa was, after all, born from a combination of traditions, including folk tales about Saint Nicholas, a Turkish Christian bishop from the fourth century with a penchant for secret gift-giving. And I know his legend has gotten way out of hand … but so what? I mean, what’s not to love? He’s jolly, he gives presents ... and for some reason, this year, I’ve begun to see something else in the anticipation of his coming
It seems to me like an echo of our longing for Christ’s return. I mean, the whole first half of the Bible Israel is waiting, waiting, waiting ... “How long?!” they would cry out... waiting for God’s Messiah ... like we are during every Advent. Fortunately for us, our waiting is merely symbolic. We’re just lighting candles and reading passages every Sunday at church. The promised Messiah has already come!
So instead, we wait for a fat man in a red suit to bring us an iPod or, as the irritating kid in “Polar Express” says, some “stupid underwear.” The anticipation now starts early, thanks to modern retailers and their over-enthusiastic advertising. “Hey, kids! Let’s go ahead and start waiting for Christmas!” But the truth is, I’m always waiting for Christmas.
Not the coming of the jolly old elf, or even the coming of my Deliverer – because that’s already happened. No, I’m waiting for ... something I can’t really put my finger on ... for ALL of God’s promises to be fulfilled in every way...? Or maybe it’s just heaven I’m waiting for? To actually see God face to face? One of the “waiting” Psalms actually says, “When will I see God?” and I have to say, I know exactly what that guy meant. I have a fantastic life down here, but frankly, the anticipation of what’s to come is always kind of lurking in the back of my mind. Not in any morose or suicidal way, just ... I’m looking forward to what comes next. To being in the arms of Jesus, Lover of My Soul, as the old hymn says.
If we pay attention, life on earth is full of signs and symbols, and I have decided to crown Santa the symbol of joyful waiting, also known as “hope.” On the other hand, I also realize that not everyone has the same experience with this jolly generous soul. To some people, maybe he’s a symbol of disappointment. On one of my favorite Christmas records, “A Very Special Christmas 3,” Run DMC and a bunch of other rap artists weave together some Christmas-in-the-ghetto tales, to produce a poignant song of Yuletide disappointment. I’m won’t pretend to understand the pain of poverty, but I do love the part at the end, when the song turns to God, who is, according to Psalm 14, the refuge of the poor:
“Santa Baby, are you really real? / Kris Kringle / Let me see you make my pockets jingle / We need some jobs in the ghetto / Too much gangbanging where kids are playin’ / I hear the church bells ringing / On Christmas Eve / I believe / Jesus-calling me / Forget the gifts and the shopping lists / And the new kicks / You’re just falling for tricks / (you better praise him)”
You see, if Santa is all that you are waiting for, it’s possible you will be disappointed. Because, of course, the version of Santa you get depends largely on your economic means. But if it’s a Messiah you’re waiting for, well, 1) He’s already come, 2) He’s coming back, and 3) He doesn’t care how much money you have.
In fact, this is one situation where all the money in the world will not help you. In fact, Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Fortunately, for the rich, He follows it with this: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” To which I say, “Whew.” Because Jesus came to shepherds ... and also to kings.
Julie Moore lives in Chapel Hill. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org