By: J Robert Giles
Christmas Series 2011 (Part 3)
"I truly believe that if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs,
and living the Christmas spirit, we can bring joy and happiness and peace to this world."
- Norman Vincent Peale
I love Christmas. Christmas, like no other time on the calendar, is a celebration of faith. Christmas brings out the child in even the most rigid of men. Strangers seem a little more familiar when they display evidence of a mutual belief. Christmas provides clear proof of this fact. The disgustingly rude blob that works behind the counter at the local convenience store displays an “It’s all about CHRISTmas” button on his shirt yesterday and suddenly he’s a little less revolting. The genuinely pleasant guy at Starbuck’s with the giant bolt in his face and those lovely, see-through earlobes says “Merry Christmas” with a smile on his face and suddenly he seems like a teammate. I have no idea if these men will celebrate the season with any similarities whatsoever to the festivities and traditions of my own home, but Christmas is the one time of year that allows me to believe they will. We’re bred at an early age to behold the majestic beauty of the Christmas spirit. Santa is one of the first real examples of faith a human being will ever know.
Santa, especially to a 7-12 year old kid, is the ultimate test in faith. At that age, the understanding of the most important kind of faith is limited at best, and conversations are pretty minimal. Santa, however, is easily understood. The physics of chimney accessibility, global travel, and quadruped aviation are irrelevant. As an adult, faith is even more unfathomable when God is the recipient of our belief. On almost a daily basis, we are asked to defend our faith in a God that can’t be seen. We are forced to humbly accept the ridicule from the progressive enlightened bunch. Our faith is twisted and manipulated to support certain causes for which it should never be asked to represent. Through it all, we have faith. We have faith and we have peace. It’s that peace that allows us to smile at the grossly arrogant doubt that oozes from nonbelievers. True magic occurs when someone with adamant faith in both God and Santa is found.
Kids understand their belief in Santa. It can’t be questioned. The fact that they have never seen him delivering the presents doesn’t even make a dent in the encasing armor of their faith. Why is it then that adults sometimes seem to stumble when pressed about their faith in God? Why is it that questioning someone about their belief in God can be done from a platform of assumed superiority but to question a child about their belief in Santa with a condescending tone will bring about a public beating? Why are the two not regarded with the same respect? Christmas has become more of a statement than a celebration. It’s become more about defiance than joy; on both sides of the argument. Those of us who accept that our best Christmas gift was delivered to a manger in Bethlehem feel that we must remain defiant in the face of opposition. Our public celebration of Our Savior’s birth is our signature on the enlistment papers. Those who feel that Christmas and all of it’s faith is something beneath their level of intelligence should not be allowed to celebrate the tangible, earthly benefits of Jesus’ Birthday Party as they mock it’s true origin yet their defiant opposition seems to be their battle cry. Those who worship another, less “fact-based” God…..well…..what the heck are you doing reading this article?!?! Belief in Santa, however, is encouraged in kids born into both sides of the argument. All of us would absolutely welcome the discovery of Santa’s Workshop. If your favorite TV show was interrupted with news that everything you ever heard about Santa Claus was just proven to be true, you would cry with joy. You would be free to be a kid again. You’re smiling right now just thinking about it, aren’t you? I sure am!
We believe that Santa lives at the North Pole, but we can’t believe that Jesus lives everywhere? We believe in Santa’s magical flying sleigh, but we can’t believe that Jesus walked on water? Santa brings joy once every year and we look forward to his visit with eager anticipation yet we shun Jesus’ constant presence and guidance. Santa slithers down your chimney, uninvited, in the middle of the night; eats your cookies and possibly takes pictures of you while you’re sleeping. Kind of creepy, right? Jesus, however is more of a gentleman. He knocks at your door and waits patiently for your invitation to enter. You have to wait in long lines at the mall to see a Santa that smells like old Mac n’ Cheese and paint thinner but a conversation with Jesus only requires the mention of His name. We believe that Santa leaves gifts under our tree and under the trees of every other kid on earth but we can’t accept that God gave us the gift of Jesus? We haven’t ever seen Santa yet our faith remains. God can be seen everywhere if He is truly sought. God can be seen in happy times just like Santa, but God is also present in sadness. God can be seen in the lessons learned from heartbreaking loss. God can be seen in illness and He can be seen in friendship. His presence can be seen in disaster but only to those willing to see it.
Christmas is a celebration of faith. Proudly display yours!
I’m sure you’ve heard stories before of Jesus being seen in varying circumstances. You may have even heard the story I’m about to re-tell (with a bit of good old fashioned creative license) before. Once again, cliché stories take on magical meaning when told against the backdrop of Christmas!
In 1962, there was a young preacher travelling through the Midwest at Christmas time. The preacher was single and he was leaving his job in Indianapolis to go to his family home in Michigan. Anyone who has ever spent any time in the Midwest this time of year knows that the weather conditions can get downright nasty. It was one of those days. Blowing snow racing along the surface of the interstate like an advancing army; a painful bite to the wind, and temperatures so cold it makes breathing a task. There was ice in spots, but it didn’t stop the young preacher from racing down the virtually traffic free interstate in his Corvette.
Several hours into his trip the preacher saw a soldier standing under an overpass with his government issue cap pulled down over his head as tightly as it would go. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets as he weathered the howling winds and the fine powder of old snow it carried in it’s momentum. His large, stereotypical duffel bag, stuffed as full as physically possible, stood at rigid attention beside him.
The preacher, travelling much faster than he should have been considering the road conditions, sped past the soldier. As he did, he noticed the young man jerk one of his hands out of his pocket and extend his thumb. The preacher gave little thought to altering his course for this stranger. Not because he was a mean man, but simply because he was driving a two-seater and the seat not caressing his own derriere was piled high with gifts and clothes for his Christmas vacation in Michigan. The trunk of a Corvette is just big enough for two pints of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Ice Cream (I suggest you go ahead buy three though. Eat one on the way home! IT’s THAT good!) so it wouldn’t prove to be much help even if he did want to stop and pick up this inconvenient stranger. He whipped past the shivering, camouflaged soldier and tried to put his blossoming guilt out of his mind before it grew.
He was unsuccessful in those attempts. The Christian in him simply wouldn’t allow him to leave a fellow human being out in the cold like that…..especially a soldier…..at CHRISTMAS! He was a preacher for heaven’s sake! He did a u-turn after about five miles of begrudging inner negotiations, and hoped the whole way back to the bridge that someone else had stopped and picked up the Army-cicle. No such luck. He stood there in the same position he had been on the first pass only now he looked more forlorn and miserable than before. His eyes were closed as if the cold had begun to shut down the nonessential functions of his body.The preacher pulled up as the soldier opened his eyes and walked excitedly to his car. The poor man’s teeth were chattering. Thick collections of ice could be seen in his eyelashes and eyebrows as he approached as quickly as his frozen, often dragging feet would allow.
The grateful soldier was determined but proud. When the preacher began to explain the limited space, the soldier never accepted defeat. The preacher pulled away from that bridge having stuffed the soldier into the passenger seat, his duffel bag between his legs, and all of the clothes and presents in his lap. The poor man couldn’t see out of any windows and boxes slid around in his lap, but never once did he complain. Feeling began to return to his extremities, and with it came his voice.
He explained that he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. “Didn’t I see you go by a little while ago? Not many Corvettes out today, kind of sticks out in my head.”
“Yes, that was me?” the preacher replied.
“You mean you turned around and came back?” The astonished soldier inquired. “Why would you do that?”
“I was raised in a home where helping others was always viewed as a gift that was never to be squandered. Plus, I’m a Christian minister. Leaving you out there in the cold just wouldn’t be right. I didn’t really think you would fit in the car, so I thought I could offer my assistance without having to actually do anything to be honest, but apparently God saw through that little ploy.” The preacher explained. “Honestly, if I wasn’t a Christian I’d probably still be racing along without a second thought whatsoever. Jesus guides me to do some things that I simply wouldn’t consider without Him.”
The soldier was silent. He just stared at the preacher for several minutes before he spoke. Even if he had been able to see out any of the windows around him, he probably would have stared at the young minister just the same. When he finally spoke it was with the shaky chords of a man using every mental weapon in his arsenal to fight back the tearful emotions attempting to seize control of him. “You have no idea how that convicts me.” he said in a shaky but confident tone. “I’m no Christian, sir. My wife is a Christian and she’s just about the greatest woman alive. She takes our kids to Church every Sunday despite my constant encouragement to just stay home with me instead. A few weeks ago, I was turned down for holiday leave because I got drunk and caused some trouble on post. I was sick about it. When another solider found out his parents were coming to spend the Holidays with some nearby relatives, he offered to relieve me of my duties so that I could get home. I had already loaned my care to another platoon-mate, and I had spent all my money on these gifts I was going to ship home to my wife and kids.” he patted his duffel bag. “I decided to start hitchhiking. My family doesn’t even know I’m coming home.”
The preacher, who had been a little put-off by the inconvenience this stranger was causing him, was now completely enthralled.
“I had been standing out there under that overpass for three and a half hours and it occurred to me that some of those passing cars had to have been carrying Christians, right? I began to get kind of bitter about it until I started to accept the fact that if I were them, I wouldn’t have stopped either. I wouldn’t have even considered it. In fact.I might have tried to splash me if I was one of the drivers! Anyway, I got so cold, so lonely, and so desperate that I began to pray. I’ve never really done it before but I’ve heard my wife say ‘just have a conversation with Him’ so many times that I just started to talk to God. I prayed that he would please send someone to help me and you want to know the embarrassing part……you showed up as soon as I opened my eyes from that prayer.”
The preacher made no attempts to hide the tears flowing freely down his cheeks. “I wasn’t going to come back but your image just wouldn’t leave my brain. Everything I preach would have been discredited if I had left you there.”
The pair of now familiar strangers pulled up to the soldier’s much missed home and sat in the driveway. The preacher honked his horn as instructed and a few moments later the front door opened just a crack. A curious child could be seen peering through the frosted glass, only able to see a car in the driveway, not it’s inhabitants. Finally, the soldier stepped out of the car and yelled toward the house “Hey, Buddy! Daddy came home for Christmas!”
Before the shakily joyous words escaped his lungs, the door swung open and a woman in a bathrobe and house slippers came bursting out into the snow covered yard. It was dark but the joyful tears could be seen flowing down her cheeks as she embraced her husband and let her emotions flow freely. The soldier hugged all three of his kids several times as tears of his own flowed more freely than the preacher had ever seen on the face of a man before.The wife and the kids thanked the preacher and explained that they had been praying for the last week that Christmas would somehow deliver “their daddy.”
That young preacher was given a lesson that he would never be able to teach a congregation. He was able to see firsthand the work of God. He was able to acknowledge the power of God in his own life and admitted that Jesus is truly in control. We can’t all rescue a soldier from frostbite in 1962, but we can all witness the power of God in our homes this Christmas. Spread it around and do your part to keep that Faith going year round.
As always, thanks for playing!
J. Robert Giles
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