Note from CM: Saturday was the observance of St. Nicholas Day. Nicholas was born in the third century in what is now southern Turkey. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Today, in honor of St. Nicholas and in remembrance of all those who are “hoping, yearning, aching for a savior,” I offer an excerpt from a 2006 Christmas Eve sermon Michael Spencer gave at a Baptist church near his home. Since this is Advent and not yet Christmas Eve, I only include the part of the message that describes our longing, a sentiment Michael was very good at expressing.
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Several years ago, our family began another tradition that has proven to be one of the highlights of Christmas for us: the reading of the unedited, uncorrected “Letters to Santa” printed in our local newspaper. The authors are local 2nd graders, and these letters, read dramatically, are absolutely the biggest laugh you can possibly imagine.
This year a boy asked for seven different kinds of carrots. Another child told Santa that last year’s situation of watching his brother get more toys simply couldn’t be repeated. They want lots of real guns, real four wheelers, and camouflage outfits. Second graders. This is Clay County, Kentucky, after all.
One child refused to write to Santa, instead writing to mom and dad and lecturing the teacher on the evils of believing in this sort of thing. (Some of my TR readers will be greatly pleased with this child.) Another child promised to leave spaghetti and sauce on the table, a real break from milk and cookies. I sense the influence of dad in that one.
Of course, most letters contained recitations of personal virtue and a summary record of good deeds. The words “very good” get quite a workout. One child said very 8 times in a row. OK. I get it.
On the other hand, a rare fellow said “Santa, would you check and see if I am on the naughty list? I think I am on the naughty list. I’m always getting into things I shouldn’t be getting into.” Now there’s a young person with the right idea.
I read these letters and I recall my own childhood. I vividly remember how Christmas would come and bring hope that, finally, dad would say yes instead of no. Finally, being poor wouldn’t be the reason I couldn’t have what other kids had. In that last week of the year, things would change and everything would be alright.
The myth of Santa Claus gripped me deeply and still affects me emotionally to this day. You see, there are other things in those children’s letters that I am not reading to you. If you know our area and culture, and if you read carefully, you will hear the story of poverty, broken families, absent parents, substance abuse and despair that lives in the hollers and off the highways of Appalachia. You will hear, in those letters to Santa, the human prayer that somehow, at the end of the year, all will be right again. That broken, ruined, imperfect lives will be touched with love and magic. Don’t we all know that letter? Don’t we all know that story?
We are, as human beings, an unfinished story, and we yearn for the last chapter to be written so that everything comes out all right.
We are a child without shoes, and we long to be clothed.
We are discordant notes, aching for resolution.
We are listening to the song of the angels, and we can hear the words “peace on earth,” but we cannot touch those angels and know that they, and their message, are real.
We are hoping, yearning, aching for a savior. Not often for THE savior, at least not most of us. But for a savior. For someone to come and say the cancer is gone. Someone to bring shoes, or a job. Someone to put us to bed without fighting, or let us hear the words “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
We are hoping that just beyond this life, we can touch another life. A life where so much isn’t wrong, and our hunger for happiness will not be constantly disappointed.
We are so close. So close we can see and hear and feel the perfect world in the faces of children, at weddings, when choirs sing, in movies and at meals. But we cannot reach that perfect world.
It is frustrating to not be able to go beyond the door; to be so close, yet so far.