Jesus, Santa, Aslan, & Superman

I really thought a blog post asking where Santa Claus belongs in the celebration of Christmas would be original. Then a bunch of people posted stuff on the exact same subject last week, totally stealing my holiday thunder.

But it goes to serve the point that in this post-modern, deconstructionist era, where everyone seems intent on bucking the trends, people just don’t know what to do with Santa Claus.

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Everyone has a story about how the found out the truth about Santa. It’s almost a rite of passage. But people are kinda split as far as what they want tell their own kids. Some tell their kids he’s real just because that the way they were raised. Others think it’s a ridiculous idea, a kin to telling your child that Superman is real.

I figured out the truth when I was four years old, noticing my family’s curiously nonchalant attitude to lighting up the fire place on Christmas Eve, so I’ve never been too sentimental about telling my kids that he’s real.

I also want to make sure that my kids understand that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. I want their presents to point towards God’s love for them, not of where their names fall on the Naughty/Nice List.

But something happened a few years ago that shifted my perspective on Santa.

My nieces were watching “The Polar Express” and I caught the end, when the train finally arrives at the North Pole. There’s a beautiful moment as the children stand outside Santa’s house, surrounded by the great host of Santa’s elves. The elves start singing Christmas carols, hopping up and down, eagerly awaiting the appearance of St. Nick. I found myself sitting down with the kids, goosebumps on my neck, hypnotized by the magic of the scene.

I thought long and hard why the movie effected me the way it did. Buried beneath my cynicism about Santa (and the fact that the animation in “The Polar Express” is a little bit creepy), something deep down inside me resonated with that moment. The anticipation of seeing this mythic, legendary character stirred me in ways I didn’t expect.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was something of God in that scene. Something like the “great multitude” worshiping before the throne of God in Revelation 7.

Then there’s the fact that Father Christmas shows up in “The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe”, one of my favorite books. Apparently C.S. Lewis thought that Santa had some place in the holidays, or at least in Narnia with Aslan and company.

MerryOldSantaEven the origins of Santa Claus, once you sift through the commercialized iconography and a few pagan influences (including some characteristics of the Norse god Odin, of all people) go back to the real Saint Nicholas, the 3rd century Greek bishop famous for his faithfulness and  generosity. One story even has him providing dowries for three impoverished daughters, saving them from lives of homelessness and poverty.

So what am I going to tell my kids about Santa? The truth.

That he was a good man who lived a long time ago, but don’t need to appease him or worship him.

I’ll advise them not to be loud mouths to their friends who believe Santa is real.

And I’ll tell my kids that the real Saint Nicholas loved God very much and that he knew that Jesus was not just a good man who died a long time ago. That he knew Jesus’s birth was certainly something worth celebrating.

I’ll put Santa up there next to Aslan and Superman as characters worthy of imitation, who teach us to be better people, but are ultimately just stories. And hopefully those stories will point my kiddos up towards the real Hero, the great King of kings, who gives the greatest gifts of all.

Thanks for reading and, whatever your thoughts on Santa Claus, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years.

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Link to “Christmas Presence”.

I guest posted on my friend Emilie Hendryx’s blog for her series called “Spread the Christmas Joy“.

My post is title “Christmas Presence” but you should really check out the rest of the series. Lots of writers (many of them better than me) have been guest writing for it all month.

And…Leave a comment and you could win an audiobook copy of HAWK by Ronie Kendig. I think you could literally just leave a smiley icon and it would count as a ‘comment’ (not that you should, but y’know.)

Thinking Back on Ten Years

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I was a good kid, but I had my secrets.

I knew the right words to say, but the desires of my heart betrayed me.

I went to church every Sunday, but I didn’t know Jesus.

I’d been raised to know right from wrong and that God ought be an important part of my life and I feel like that kept me pretty straight for the most part.

But I soon came to the end of what I could do on my own, as far as keeping myself out of trouble. I knew the things I wasn’t supposed to do, but putting all that into practice became more difficult as I got older. It was just easier to sin, then hide it, keeping up the veneer of being “an upstanding young man”.

The “good kid” facade broke down during my senior year of high school. I’d just gotten out of a bad relationship, the kind with lots of secrets. It was kind of a relief when we broke up. It was easier to not have to live under constant fear of being found out.

But then I got caught. Not by my parents. Not by a pastor. But by one of my friends, Sarah, who through complicated series of events, ending up finding out all of my junk from that bad relationship. This is the worst moment for a person trapped in sin. When despite your best efforts, the truth becomes known about you. I was sure in that moment that Sarah, one of the most solid Christians I knew, wouldn’t want to be my friend. Not now that she knew who I really was.

And that’s were things got interesting.

Her reaction was the complete opposite of what I’d expected. She saw the fear on my face and talked me down, saying “Andrew, I don’t look at you any differently knowing this” and went to great lengths to show that I had nothing to worry about. That she was still my friend.

She invited me to go to her youth group with her. I agreed to go, but, if I’m honest, I only agreed to go because I felt I needed to commit some kind of act of penance. This seemed like a good start.

So I went, feeling awkward most of the time. I’d never been to a church where they played guitars before (or had a full coffee bar). I sat in the back, feeling desperately out of place. A couple guys came up and did a sketch where one of them had gotten a stain on his shirt and all his attempts to remove the stain only made it worse. It was a tad cheesy (this was an event for high schoolers after all), but I got the point. Sin. We all had it. I knew enough to get that part. And I understood the helpless feeling of trying to fix it on my own.

Then a guy named Josh taught out of Luke 15, the parable of the Prodigal Son. Most of you know this story: the son curses his father, takes his inheritance, leaves, loses everything and is forced to come back home, penniless. And then, as the son returned, it says…

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him…the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20, 22-24)

And those words hit me. Not all at once, but with the slow building pressure that falls on one faced with an important revelation. That story was my life. The failed son. Lost. But I was starting to see that this wasn’t the end of the story.

You may call it coincidence, that in my awkward, guilt ridden state I was emotionally vulnerable, eager to feel some semblance of forgiveness. But I don’t think that’s what happened.

That day God spoke to me. Not with words, but in a language only spoken in deep places of the soul. He told me that He welcomed me as a son, and that my sin and my stains could not change the love He has for me. That He was not only awaiting my return, He’d gone far out of His way to find me.

Of course I didn’t fully realize this at the time. While I felt dramatically different, I could not have told any one why. I tried to explain it to one of my friends and ended up confusing both of us. It wasn’t ’til months later that I looked back on the one night and saw that something had changed in me.

Not simply “life improvement”. Like I said, I’d been a “pretty good kid” all along. There’s lots of terminology for it, but I like to just say that I wasn’t the same person. Literally. The physical body was the same, but a different “Andrew” had taken up residence.

And it’s continued…for 10 years now. Exactly 10 years today.

It’s not been the easiest road and I’ve been far from perfect. I’ve been sidetracked a few times, but never lost. I don’t know how long I will be on this journey. Maybe I’ve got 10 more years. Maybe 50. Or maybe just tomorrow. Point is no matter what happens, I’m always certain that the road I’ve been put on leads back to my Father’s house.

If you’re on this same road with me, I’d love to hear your story sometime. Leave a comment. Hit me up on Facebook. If you live in Carbondale, let’s grab coffee.

Cause all have a story and I’d love to hear yours.

Crappy Holidays!

Last Thanksgiving wasn’t the typical turkey and pumpkin pie affair.

Besides the fact that mom was down in Texas visiting my sister and her family, my older brother Spencer and his family were moving into an old farm house and, the way things worked out, it was best for them to on the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving. None of us were bothered by this. It was a unique chance for us a come together and help out.

But the night before the big Thanksgiving move, as I pulled up to Spencer’s house in town, he noticed that my truck was leaking some kind of fluid. We took a look at it and it looked like engine coolant, but it was late and we couldn’t really see what was happening.

The next morning we tried adding more coolant to the truck and the problem became obvious as my truck started vomiting orange gunk all over the pavement.

You have to understand, I am not “fix-my-own-truck-mechanic-guy”. I don’t deal well with car repairs It all just seems like magic to me…expensive magic. What I knew was that any coolant we tried to add leaked out immediately, my truck was now making nasty squeaking noise, I couldn’t go home until it was fixed, and no where was open because of the holiday.

So busied myself with the task of getting Spencer and his family moved into their new place and my best not to dwell on the shrieking monster lurking under the hood of my truck.

We got the job done, moving an entire semi-truck load of stuff, plus a few pick up trucks (not mine obviously) from out of one house and over to the farm, with an improvised Thanksgiving dinner of Casey’s Pizza. Then it was back to moving. At day’s end, I crashed in the living room on the couch I’d just moved in, having helped get Spencer and family get completely into their farmhouse.

On Friday I made a bunch of calls to any auto-shops with no results (apparently none of them offer special deals on Black Friday). It was really starting to look like I was going to have to stay at Spencer’s house into the start of the next week, missing a good chunk of work, which wouldn’t make it any easier when it came to paying for my truck repair. At the end of the day, all I could do was unpack more boxes, play with Spencer’s kids, and help decorate their family Christmas tree.

On Saturday, my sister-in-law got in touch with a local car dealership who they trusted and would be able to look at the truck. And when it was obvious that my truck repair was going to take a few days, Spencer worked out an arrangement rent a car from the dealership (for free!) which allowed me to take his vehicle back home for the week while my truck got patched up. It wasn’t the simplest set up, but everything worked out in the end.

Since my brother and I live so far apart, it isn’t very often that we get to help each other out like that. But when it really mattered, my family helped me out of a pretty tight spot. It’s one thing to understand conceptually that your family will take care of you. It’s a whole other thing when you get to experience it.

This year, Thanksgiving was lovely. An absolute turkey and pumpkin pie affair. My sister and her family moved back to Illinois (and yes I helped with that move too) and our whole family met at her house. The grown ups cooked. The kids ran around and played. Spencer and I taught our oldest niece how to play Monopoly.

So all told…pretty boring. But a good boring. The kind that doesn’t have you wondering how you’re getting home.

Either way has it’s merits. It’s nice to enjoy each others company, but every once in a while we need a reminder that part of being family means we watch out for one another.

So I hope you had a boring Thanksgiving and that the rest of your holidays are equally uneventful, but if not, don’t worry. Things will work out in the end. And there’s always a silver lining to every crappy holiday.