One almost can’t help but find oneself thinking about the cultural images of Christmas which surround us in these last days of Advent. Now there are certainly those who would hold fast to their certainty that Santa and his Reindeer and all the rest cloud the true meaning of the season. And while I cannot argue with that view, I find myself in these days looking a little more gently on our passing on of Santa Claus to our little ones. For I can’t help but wonder if it is rooted in our desire to offer ‘something more.’ Something that can’t quite be explained in the usual way. Something that allows us to believe at least for a little while that that which holds us to the earth can be denied. And maybe flying reindeer offer some semblance of that.
This is how this came to me in these last days. I found myself driving through open country this week on the same road where, but a few months ago, I was hemmed in by lush green fields of ripening corn and beans, Now, however, you can see for miles. We have no snow to speak of. What little we did have has long since melted and we are left with acre after acre of stubble which remains after combines swept through and farmers harvested their crops. Driving by these frozen fields, I was taken back to a funeral I helped put together several years ago now.
Their mother and grandmother died in summer, so as we sat at the kitchen table our gaze fell upon fields very different from the ones I passed by this week. The story told was of December nights, though, and how Grandma would be hard at work in the kitchen, making ready for the Christmas feast and urging the little ones to the window where they would see a red light bobbing across the open field: an approximation of Santa and his reindeer, with Rudolph in the lead. Grandpa was apparently the one who made his way out on those cold nights, year after year, seeking to make magic for those who still so believed. Seeking to offer ‘something more’ than what was normally theirs on any other day or night of the year.
It was something to realize, of course, that those remembering could not have recalled a single gift they had unwrapped in those years so long before. But they remembered the ‘magic.’ They recalled the certainty that anything was possible. Oh yes, for at least a while they lived in the confidence that gravity itself could be denied. And later, when they learned how this actually came to be, they remembered and spoke with deep fondness of the love behind it all.
And oh, isn’t it always our dearest wish for those we love the most, that somehow we might all believe that ‘something more’ might be theirs in gravity itself somehow denied — be it only even in flying reindeer and an old man dressed in red who somehow manages to make Christmas happen for all the children of the world in one single solitary night. Oh, don’t we want to defy gravity in other ways even more — all that which keeps us so bound to the earth. Be it Betrayal. Or Dashed Hopes and Dreams. Or Illness. Or Pain. Or Grief. Or Death. And long past the time when we have come to the realization that defying such as these seems to lead us nowhere, one can’t really blame us for trying to protect the illusion of this possibility for the small ones among us. If only with our tales of Santa and his flying reindeer.
So it was that a few days back I heard this yearning again in the voice of a mother unknown to me. She had called the church with a plea for help. She told me that she had not yet put up a Christmas tree this December for she did not want her five children to hope for what she thought could not be hers to give. Her breaking heart could be felt through the phone line as she spoke of her desire to give them ‘at least something’ this Christmas. My heart joined hers as we did what we could to make this so. For I found myself saying out loud that children should have something to open on Christmas. I, too, was hoping that somehow in this they might believe that other things might be possible as well: that somehow ‘something more’ might be theirs this season, too. That — dare I say it — perhaps ‘gravity itself’ might be defied for them this Christmas.
And yet, of course, for all of our wanting to deny or defy or destroy what holds us to this earth, the gift and irony of Christmas is that Jesus came to us as he did so long ago in a way that did not defy gravity at all. No indeed, God’s own Son came and submitted to being as bound to this earth as you and I. Born to a too-young mother and an at first hesitant dad. In an unremarkable town with not even a proper bed to sleep in. Surrounded by animals and visited by shepherds. It is all so remarkable simply because it is so un-remarkably earth-bound. Except for the angels, of course. Those heralding angels remind us that somehow by Jesus not defying gravity, in the end, gravity and all it symbolizes will be denied, defied, and utterly destroyed once and for all.
And it all starts with loving enough to be ‘earth-bound.’ For while the possibility of reindeer flying through the air towing enough gifts to delight all the children of the world gratifies us for a moment, it is nothing next to the gift of God’s Presence, God’s Love, God’s very Life beside us and within us.
And as for those other tales of Christmas which our small ones still hold dear? May the generosity and joy they offer somehow point us back to remembering that Christmas possibility of ‘something more’ is not only for children. For this is what stays with me about the story I offered here. While I love the playful image of a red light bobbing through an empty winter field there was this: Those now grown grandchildren gathered around the table that summer’s day remembered only the love she held for them as she passed along the possibility of ‘something more.’
And so this is my prayer for each and all of you:
- May ‘something more’ be yours this Christmas and always as you remember and celebrate the One who did not defy gravity but who, in great love, became as earth-bound as the rest of us.
- May the gift of Jesus being earth-bound for us be not only gift but model as we seek to reach a world of people who need the same.
- And may the certainty of God’s great love for you always be yours. For this love is that which promises to deny, defy, and finally destroy all that keeps us bound to earth.