A couple of days ago, I received a call from a desperate mother of five who wanted Christmas gifts for her children. Like every parent, she knew that her children - like most children all over the world - will be looking forward to what Santa got for them this Christmas. Later in the day after my call with this mother, I went to the Columbia Mall to purchase Christmas gifts for my children. I have not been to the mall since my arrival from Ghana, but I have been at the mall several times during the height of the holiday season. To my utter surprise, the mall was not as packed with shoppers as it usually is this time of year. "Where is everyone?" I wondered. Another strange observation was the number of shops which have been boarded up. "What is going on?" I asked myself.
The devastation on families as a result of this coronavirus has been profound. In fact, many were suffering before the virus did hit, and their plight has only been exacerbated by the devastation wrought by this pandemic. In many ways, I am part of the lucky ones who can still count on a paycheck. It is humbling to know that many of you still give in support of our common life, in spite of the many challenges that you do face in your personal lives.
Your generosity makes it possible for me to be Santa Claus to my children. Your kindness makes it possible for me to help another parent also be Santa Claus to hers. Our gifts make it possible for us to be Santa Claus to many children through the Angel Tree program that took place a few weeks ago. Thank You for being Santa Claus.
"But does Santa Claus really exist?" asked a son who thought he was old enough to challenge the myth of Santa Claus. I read this story on the Facebook page of Sara Kirkpatrick, our Sr. Warden:
Son: "Dad, I think I'm old enough now. Is there a Santa Claus?"
Dad: "Ok, I agree that you're old enough. But before I tell you, I have a question for you. You see, the truth is a dangerous gift. Once you know something, you cannot unknow it. Once you know the truth about Santa Claus, you will never again understand and relate to him as you do now. So, my question is: Are you sure you want to know?"
Son: "Yes, I want to know"
Dad: "Ok, I'll tell you: Yes, there is a Santa Claus"
Dad: "Yes, really, but he is not an old man with a beard in a red suit. That is just what we tell kids. You see, kids are too young to understand the true nature of Santa Claus, so we explain it to them in a way that they can understand. The truth about Santa Claus is that he is not a person at all; he is an idea. Think of all those presents Santa gave you over the years. I actually bought those myself. I watched you open them. And did it bother me that you did not thank me? Of course not! In fact, it gave me great pleasure."
He continued: "You see, Santa Claus is THE IDEA OF GIVING FOR THE SAKE OF GIVING, without thought of thanks or acknowledgment. When I saw that woman collapse on the subway last week and called for help, I knew that she would never know that it was me that summoned the ambulance. I was being Santa Claus when I did that."
Dad: "So now that you know, you are part of it. You have to be Santa Claus now, too. That means you can never tell a young kid the secret, and you have to help us select Santa presents for them and, most importantly, you have to look for opportunities to help people. Got it?"
What fascinates me about this story is the idea that Santa Claus is an idea, the idea of giving for the sake of it. Not with the hope of securing any benefit or glory, but only for the sake of giving. In the incarnation itself, we experience the ultimate act of giving - the giving of God’s self to us. John 3:16 reminds us “For God so loved that world that He GAVE His only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In a very real and transforming way, it is only the act of giving that sustains our lives and that of the world. The kind of giving that leaves us free and not beholden to anything. The kind of giving that is only acknowledged by God and expects nothing in return from the receiver.
I learned, many years ago, that no one can give what he or she does not have. But there is one thing, that one gift that each and every one of us has in equal measure-which is love. The rich and the poor, the slave and the free, Blacks, and Whites, and everyone in-between, possess this gift in equal measure. And it is that one gift which fuels our act of giving and offers meaning to all our relationships for without the act of giving, there is no way we can build a relationship.
It has been a difficult year all around, but we can soften the blow that many of us have faced by not only being a part of the secret but actually living into the secret idea of being Santa Claus-giving for the sake of giving.
So, this Christmas, be a Santa Claus - give to yourself, and to others. Give without the expectation of a reward. Matthew reminds us: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
As dreary as Christmas might be, you may never tell the impact of your belief in the idea until you live it. It is like lighting your candle and putting it on the lampstand.
As challenging as this Christmas might be, you may never know how fulfilling life can be until you live it.
As different as this Christmas might be, I invite you to a wonderful celebration of joy, hope, faith, beauty, renewal, love, and life. And I invite you to reflect on the fact that it is only by our act of GIVING that our celebration of life becomes possible, fulfilling, and complete.
Christmas is about giving, and I wish you the absolute best this Christmas. Again, I invite you to the celebration of the greatest story ever told - the story of how God’s act of GIVING changed the human story, and how your act of GIVING can change your life and the lives of many.
A Very Merry Christmas to you, my beloved, and my fellow Santa Claus.