31 Santas

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We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. –Hebrews 6:1

I’m running a B & B for Santa Clauses. Or a detention center.  I’m not sure.

Out in my cold garage, all wrapped up and nestled on shelves, lie 31 Santa Claus figures.  A burly outdoorsy Santa carrying a tree over his shoulder. A mystical wizard-looking Santa in a robe.  Short, hand painted wooden figurines.  Tall, spindly abstract Santas.

31 of them!

We’ve gathered them over a few decades, but the last couple years it hasn’t seemed worth it to set them all up.  We’ve kept things simpler.  A tree, a manger scene, and that’s about it.

But those Santas…

At night, I can hear them muttering to one another, out in the garage.  They’re restless.  Most of the year they’re content to slumber away, but not in December.

The outdoorsy Santa says:  “If they’d let us out of here we could at least ring the salvation army bells somewhere.”

“Yeah,” an old fashioned looking Santa replies.  “If we went to 31 different locations, think how much change we’d collect!”

“Or,” the mystical looking Santa says, “We could go to 31 different churches and increase everybody’s attendance by one!”

“Maybe,” a gnome-like Santa says, “but I think we could make more of a difference if we all impersonated yard gnomes and made sure nobody stole packages off people’s porches!”

“I mean,” the tall spindly Santa says, “if they’re not going to use us, they could at least give us away to someone else.  Tis the season of giving, right?”

I heard a lot of agreement with that.  He was right. So I got up out of bed, stepped into the cold garage, unboxed each Santa…

And set them free.  They scurried off into the night to do what Santa’s do best.

I spotted the outdoorsy one today, escorting an old man across the street.  The mystical one was at the coffee shop, having a deep theological discussion about the Incarnation.  And I caught a glimpse of three or four at the thrift store, passing out gifts.

I was a little sorry to see them go, but more than anything, I was thinking about why I had collected them in the first place.  To me, Santa is a human attempt to reflect the divine impulse of giving.  Santa reminds us that humans can give grace.  We were made in the image of God, and blessed by the Grace of Jesus. Santa knows this.

Santa isn’t the manager of a toy factory.  Santa is one of the “Saints”, devoting himself to a lifetime of thanks to God by giving to God’s children.  As I, too, should be.

This morning, I walked out to my empty garage, and grinned.

I was ready to be…

Number 32.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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Christmas is for adults, too.

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Everybody always says, “Christmas is for Children.”

Been there, done that.  It was great.

However…

I’d like to raise a few points on behalf of those who find themselves with a few gray hairs.  Or a lot of them.

Christmas is no less magical or profound or sweet or challenging now than it was when we were whippersnappers.

In fact, it may even be better.

Let’s talk about Hope:  I must confess I’ve done my time on the Island of Misfit Toys.  Feeling broken. Not sure where I belonged. But I’ve learned that everyone gets broken.  Everyone feels like a misfit from time to time.  It is the coming of Christ that gives our lives meaning and purpose.  Now I know what it really means to have HOPE!

Let’s talk about Love:  I’ve learned that there is no perfect present underneath the tree.  Hard as we might try, we can’t fit love in a box.  There’s only one gift that truly satisfies to that extent.  It is the gift that God gave to us, so that we might pass it on.  Now I know what it really means to have (and give) LOVE!

Let’s talk about Peace:  Every year I find myself saying, “has the world ever been this bad?”  My attentiveness to the suffering around me has developed, but so has my faith and resolve.  I believe there is no turmoil that the Prince of Peace cannot transform, and I want to help.  Now I know how to look for signs of PEACE!

Let’s talk about Joy:  Whereas once a gadget or a toy would make me giddy, now joy strikes me much more deeply. It is in the presence of family and friends.  In witnessing simple acts of grace.  In the Christmas story.  More than just the excitement of a season, I am reminded of what God With Us truly means both now, and the whole year round.  Now I know the ongoing thrill of JOY!

Oh, I’d never take back all those wondrous Christmases I spent as a child.

But I’m surprised to report that the Christmas miracle keeps on getting clearer,

…even as I keep getting grayer.

Merry Christmas.

Mitch

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originally published 12/14, revised 12/18

Sunday, 12/16/18 2-4pm at Jane’s Landing Coffee Shop in Mulvane KS — BOOKSIGNING PARTY!  Come drop by!

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“Can You Play?”

 

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“The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” -Zechariah 8:5

It was Saturday afternoon at the church, on the cusp of Advent, and I was working.

Kylie (our awesome children’s director) had recruited some volunteers to offer free babysitting just to give parents a few hours of kid-free time.  Judging this to be a noble task, I signed on to help.

We had watched a movie, and done a variety of crafts, and now, with an hour to go, Kylie and I filed the older kids into the gym for some running around time.

I found a chair and sat down.

Kylie began leading the kids through one form of tag after another.  Freeze tag.  Sharks and minnows.  Stay-on-the-line tag. (There are a lot more versions of tag than I remembered)

I watched as calories were burned and a good time was mostly had by all.  Then it happened. One of the girls, a third grader, was getting things organized for yet another version of running and catching.  She looked at me and said the words:

“Can you play?”

I had been sitting on my rump for an hour, never even considering joining in.  Her words literally stunned me.

I jumped to my feet and stammered, “Yes…I can play…”  At that very moment Kylie called out that it was time for the kids to meet up with their parents.

What a strange moment for me.  I had been invited (called out) to play, and now I was saved by the clock.  Half of me felt like I’d dodged a bullet.  The other half felt…old.  And not the good kind of old.  The kind of old that looks at the past wistfully, wondering what’s become of me.

CAN I play? I play an occasional video game.  Does that count?  I walk my dog.  I watch Netflix.  Wow. I used to play instinctively.  With wild abandon.  Have I lost this spark of my humanity? I certainly hope not, but I may admittedly be a little rusty.

Which brings me to Advent.  In honor of this little encounter, and in spite of all the work I have on my plate these next weeks, I have decided to honor the coming Christ the way a child might.  These are the ways I aim to play this Advent:

  1.  Play a board game.  Monopoly, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit.  I’ve got all those in a closet somewhere.
  2. Play Santa.  I aim to give gifts that aren’t just check marks on a list.  I want to feel that thrill of giving — Fewer gift cards…more toys!
  3. Play with Tom.  Tom is my doggie.  He ALWAYS wants to play, but most of the time I give him a treat to distract him.  I plan to get down on the floor and rough house.
  4. Play with kids.  I will joke and tease with the kids at my church, but if I want to recapture Christmas through their eyes, I’ll need to listen to them, learn from them, and get up off my rump, wiling to burn a few calories!
  5. Play with my imagination.  I used to be so good at this!  Bringing a drawing or a story into the world.  You know, Making believe is actually a good way for Making Believers! So today I’ll pretend to be a shepherd.  Tomorrow I’ll do my best to be an angel.

That’s my list, for now.  Do you have one?  While making a list seems counter to the whole spontaneous notion of play, in this case I hope it serves as a good reminder.

Yes! I CAN play. May that never change.  To see Christmas as the twinkle in the eye of the creator takes more effort for some of us than others, but it’s always worth it.  Besides, I’ve received an official invitation to try, from a real live young person.

Let me extend that invitation to you.  Can you play?  Do you want to try with me?

Good.

Tag, you’re it.

Have a great Advent,

Mitch

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MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours today!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback