Santa Meets God—Again
by the Rev. Sandra Kay Dodson, Christ Congregational Church (UCC), Silver Spring, Maryland
God: Who are you?! Hey, didn’t we meet up around this time last year?
Santa: Yes, as a matter of fact, we did. My name is Santa, Santa Claus. Ho Ho Ho.
God: Yes! You’re the chap that began as St. Nicholas. You have a feast day coming this week—Tuesday, December 6.
Santa: Imagine that. . . . Do people give ME presents Tuesday?
God: Don’t you wish… Why don’t you share with the folks here a little bit about your history? Not everyone heard or remembers details of our last visit.
Santa: St. Nicholas was an early Christian bishop who presided over Myra, a city in what we now know as Turkey. Today in America I am known as Santa Claus and my story is legend.
God: For the record, my story goes beyond legend. My story begins quite a few thousand years before your story, Mr. Claus. My story has no actual place or time of beginning because I have always existed. I created space and time. My story took shape in the lives of a people I chose, the Hebrew people. I was not just their bishop. I AM WHO I AM, YAHWEH, GOD.
Santa: Alright already, God. We get it. You asked me to share my history. The most familiar story about me begins, 'Twas the night before Christmas . . . .
God: The most familiar beginning line of my story is "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . ." I’m sorry Santa. Tell us about your predecessor, St. Nicholas.
Santa: Well, I don't resemble him much anymore. He was only a youth when he became a high church official and was known as the "Boy Bishop." He loved children, I know that. But most of all he was known for his generosity.
God: Ah, I like that. To be generous, to share with others, that’s my idea of love.
Santa: Nicholas was the most popular saint in Christian history! He was the ultimate gift giver. He expected nothing in return for his good deeds. He took Jesus’ words and life to heart.
God: Thank you for making that point, Santa.
Santa: I have you to thank, God. Last year our conversation left an impression on me.
God: I knew you were a caring old soul.
Santa: How old do you think I am?! If I were you, I’d be careful about calling me "old."
God: Let’s not go down that road. Tell us again how St. Nicholas evolved into Santa Claus?
Santa: Like I said before, the Bishop was a special friend to children and so he baked bread himself with sugar and spices from exotic lands. He gave these breads to the children. Some American cookie cutters still show the pointed miter of a bishop's hat.
God: Jesus shared bread with children. I wonder if Christmas cookies would be acceptable at the communion table? Maybe as a side dish.
Santa: Dutch sailors took reports of the bishop's generosity back home to Holland. His generosity was not limited to children. Tales of St. Nicholas’ good deeds traveled quickly. As a result, the Feast of St. Nicholas was established. December 6 it was! In Europe St. Nicholas was portrayed as a saint riding a horse carrying a basket of gifts for good children. Naughty children received birch rods, or spankings.
God: Are you getting the picture folks?
Santa: I'm not called St. Nicholas anymore. My American name is Santa Claus.
God: More than your name has changed. Why, to most you're a fat jolly character that has taken over Christmas.
Santa: Well, when the Dutch came to America they put together a more Dutch- American saint. He wore a broad brimmed hat, smoked a Dutch pipe, and his churchly robe was replaced with short breeches. A man named Washington Irving pictured me as a jolly, chubby fellow riding through the air on a sleigh with reindeer. Ironically, it was a man of the cloth that added the finishing touches.
God: No harm was intended.
Santa: A minister wrote a poem for his children. He called it "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Later it became known as, The Night Before Christmas. His name was Clement C. Moore.
God: Thanks, Santa, for helping us connect the faith and life of St. Nicholas with his role model, Jesus.
Santa: Wouldn’t you agree that most people connect you with me more than they connect me and Jesus?
God: You’ve got that right! We both are depicted with that frumpy grandpa look, and of course white flowing beards and twinkling blue eyes.
Santa: Kids write letters to me.
God: People say prayers to me that often sound like letters to you!
Santa: I deliver gifts by sleigh and reindeer, elves help me.
God: I guess it's no harder to believe in reindeer flying than in angels flying.
Santa: Kids think I know everything . . . like if they've been bad or good just before Christmas.
God: They know that I know everything—all year 'round.
Santa: No wonder kids get confused.
God: Oh, it's not just kids. Grown-ups are confused too.
Santa: I’m sorry.
God: Me too. St. Nicholas is an Advent saint, not Christmas. His job was to remind people of me, of my generosity. To witness to others the radical love and welcome I extend to everyone. One of my most precious gifts to the world was Jesus. Jesus is the reason for the season. Nicholas taught people how to give through his deeds, He taught us to give in secret, with no thought of getting a gift in return.
Santa: But unfortunately, people have forgotten. Is that my fault?
God: It’s not your fault, Santa. People like to give and receive gifts. Stores, then advertising, took advantage of this fact. They watered down the profound and religious aspects of St. Nicholas. In a sense they dressed St. Nicholas and me in a red snowsuit. They changed the bishop's prayers into a chuckling ho-ho-ho. It's time people thought again about the meaning of Advent and Christmas. Greed has taken over for generosity. People fill their lives with things while others need food, medical care, quality schools, housing and families. There are endless issues of justice to address.
Santa: Is there a place for me, God?
God: I think with some reminders about your purpose in Christmas you could still fit in. People need to think in terms of quality, not quantity. Instead of over-extending budgets and energies, we need to focus on being present to one another.
Santa: Amen, brother, sister, father, mother, whatever your name is!
God: For now, God will do.
Santa: Last year I was much more in a hurry. I had to rush off. Could you tell me a little more about Jesus and Christmas?
God: I’d love to! I’ve been around a long time. Time, hmmm. Time is a people construct. While I created light and darkness, I left concepts like day, night, years, months and days, alone. People need structure. I understand that. Jesus is a response to that need, actually.
Santa: Jesus was your reminder to people that structure, categories and rules must have your commandments at their core.
God: Exactly! I try to keep it simple. All I require is that my people do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with me. When things get particularly out of line, when people put themselves or unjust rules above me or insist on killing in my name and ignore my correctives, I just have to speak up.
Santa: So why did Jesus come as a helpless baby?
God: Babies are so cute! Who can’t love a little baby? With all the grief I get, I wanted to have part of me cuddled a while. Okay, there’s more to the story. I wanted people to know me better. I could tell that they needed someone to follow, someone more visible than "God." I wanted them to always know that I am part of their lives and world, that I really do know about suffering and how unfair life is sometimes. Be not afraid. I am with you always.
Santa: So Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birthday and all that your coming means. And Advent is about getting ready for that gift, your gift, God with us! Bring it on, John the Baptist! Prepare the way! Prepare our hearts!
God: In this mysterious and wonderful world, Jesus is received with mixed feelings. He is considered a savior by many. Someone who saves people from hell or lives of quiet desperation. Jesus is experienced as THE way to me by millions. There are many ways to know me, Santa.
Santa: I have lots of helpers this time of year. What about our teaming up and sending an Advent wake-up call to all who will listen?
God: Splendid idea, Santa! Behold!! Jesus is coming and Jesus is here. God is still speaking! And she says, "Be of mercy and good works all the days of your life. Dare to welcome the stranger and enemy, especially the one whose faith is unlike yours. Be not afraid, for I am with you, ALWAYS."
Santa: And all the people said, AMEN!
By Sandra Kay Dodson, Christ Congregational Church (UCC), Silver Spring, Maryland, December 4, 2005. Used by permission.