When I pastored, I spent a lot of time riding in my car, going from home to home, office to hospital, meeting to meeting—all of which meant that at this time of year, I was treated to the wonderful ways folks decorated their homes and yards for the Christmas season.
Trees strung with lights and porch rails with garlands. Windows snowed and walkways lit with luminaries. The more serious decorators emulated Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate in exterior illumination displays.
One day, I drove by a yard display that was unique. At first I thought it was the usual manger crèche display with Child and a barn of gathered animals.
But as I looked closer, I saw Rudolph standing, red nose and all, among the sheep and donkey. And then there was Frosty the Snowman, silk hat and all, posed with the shepherds. Finally, there was none other than Santa Claus, perched atop the eaves of the manger, toting presents, looking for a chimney to slide down.
My first reaction was to pray for God to rain hail fire down on the display and burn it to smithereens. This display was a sacrilege.
The very idea of Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa Claus with all their conspicuous consumerism and commercial crassness, desecrating the sacredness of the representative birthplace of the Savior of the world was yet another example of the blurring of the sacred and the secular in a world searching for God in all the wrong places.
Now I’m not a Christmas Scrooge when it comes to Rudolph, Frosty, and jolly ole Saint Nicholas. My daughters grew up with the full expectation that a magical, red-suited, white-bearded, toy-bearing elf would slide down our chimney every Christmas. I wasn’t one of those pastors who wanted to drive a stake in Santa’s heart.
But this unique crèche depiction pushed the boundaries of my Christmas sensibilities. I drove down the road a little faster, a little angrier, a little less Christmas-like . . . until it occurred to me how many yards I had seen decorated with just Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa—no Mary and Joseph, no baby Jesus, no shepherds or flocks. The Santa crowd probably outnumbered the Mary-and-Joseph scenes four-to-one. At least these folks had seen fit to include Mary and Joseph.
Or, was it the other way around?
Could it be they included Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa in the Mary-and-Joseph manger scene?
Quickly I remembered the gentle spirit of the sheep and donkey as they gazed on the Christ child. Rudolph was among them. I recalled the humility of the shepherds as they stood around the manger. Frosty stood the farthest away. I relived seeing Santa on the top of the barn. He was trying to deliver presents to the Christ child.
As I pondered these possibilities in my heart, I thought of all the people who come to worship during Advent and Christmas that show up few other times during the year—all of them trying to get to Jesus. People caught up in the conspicuous consumerism and commercial crassness, trying to get to the Christ child. The same people who stood reverently around the live Nativity scene our church depicted annually. The same folks who crowded into our sanctuary on Christmas Eve to watch me baptize four or five new Christians, to hear someone read the Luke story and light the Christ Candle, to receive the Lord’s Supper and go out into the cold night, warmed by a lit candle and the singing of Silent Night, Holy Night.
They wanted to fortify their spirits, knowing there is more to the season than neon noses, silk hats, and ho-ho-ho’s.
In a way, we’re all trying to get to the Christ child in the manger. Granted, some of us come to Him in ways different than the rest. But those of us caught in the Rudolph-Frosty-Santa snare need to get to Him, too.
I exchanged my prayer for hail fire for holy flame.
For it is the baby Jesus who warms our hearts with God’s love in a cold, crass world.
(Adapted from my op-ed piece in THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, December 22, 1997.)
Dr. Joey Faucette