July 10, 2020

iMonk Classic: Letters to Santa

St Nicholas

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.

• • •

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.

14069The 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.

Comments

  1. The closing sentence made me think of our part in helping people find the door, as expressed in Sam Shoemakers’ famous poem “I Stand By The Door”. It and this post both have a challenge for us.

  2. Thank you for this. A Classic, indeed. He abides in that place of restoration now.

  3. This reminds me of growing up as a child. Anticipation of Christmas day and then disappointment that the next day would be just like the days previous.

    The hope was always present, but its acquisition was always just beyond reach. Never the less the promise of hope had just enough power to keep us going for another round. Always promising but never fully delivering. It wasn’t till I was introduced to the Promiser that I began to comprehend the Promise and the inevitability of its realization.

    I love Advent for this reason, the Promise, yet knowing that there will be more pain and sorrow before the Promise is fully received. I long to be united with Christ but I tremble at the thought of how that meeting will come to pass: 20+ more years of life, pain, and suffering. Advent.

  4. Christiane says

    those letters from children that aren’t read aloud . . . yes . . . was a sixth-grade teacher for many years, and what children sometimes wrote was truly heart-breaking . . . so much pain so soon in lives that still strongly hoped for better . . .

    it is written that we are ‘saved by hope’ in Romans 8:24 and I often wondered how this could be, unless that ‘hope’ was connected firmly to Christ Himself. So I have come to think of ‘hope’ in this way:

    “Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart;
    it transcends the world that is immediately experienced,
    and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons
    . . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
    but the certainty that something makes sense,
    regardless of how it turns out.”
    (Vaclav Havel)

  5. Faulty O-Ring says

    comment deleted: off topic

  6. Thanks for sparing us these comments; a good moderator

  7. OldProphet says

    Hope is such a strange word. Scripture speaks of our Hope in Christ but what does that really mean? As a kid I would “hope” for an electric train; I never got it by the way. But that kind of hope was not the same as biblical hope. Biblical hope is more like faith isn’t it? It’s based upon something tangible, God in the flesh revealed to us in this Advent season. I hoped my parents would get me the train set, but wasn’t sure if it would happen or not. My parents loved me, but it had nothing to do with presents; they weren’t Christians. But my hope in the Lord results in His favor towards me, His love for me, and yes, his gifts. Totally unmerited by me. All I’ve ever wanted is to serve him. All He has ever wanted to do was love me, and He does! Glory to God in the highest! May God’s favor, blessing, and affections be upon you all. And Merry Christmas!

    • Good reflections, OP. Biblical hope IS more like faith. Here’s my definition, based upon own experience and reflection upon the Word.

      -Hope is being in a spiritual desert year after year, for 5-7 years, feeling no presence of God, yet praying, “God, I still believe you’re real. Please let me feel your presence again.”

      -Hope is no doubt like hanging on a cross and saying, “Why have you forsaken me?” yet believing that he hasn’t.

  8. Reminds me of C.S. Lewis theme of longing, so true, so powerful.

  9. “We are discordant notes, aching for resolution.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUVUgZJiZHk

  10. As much as anything, this post and the comments make me sad today. Christmas makes me sad as much as anything. It seems like there is a dark side as well as the light. The birth of our Messiah resulted in the death of a significant number of infants in as horrific and grievous an event as anything the ISIS are coming up with today against Christian families in the Middle East. Innocent children in their last stay in Eden write letters to Santa Claus which provide merriment for adults reading them, or tears if read too close. These children are being trained as consumers, which is all that keeps us afloat as a world and local economy. What am I going to get? Jesus? What’s in it for me?

    I put cheap Christmas lights up on my house tonight. Not sure of local protocol as this is my first Christmas here and I don’t see decorated houses around me. The village put up decorations on the light poles, but the houses, no. These are pioneer ethnic descendants, perhaps it is too soon, I don’t know. Northern Europeans, they invented the wreath and the tree. The first I saw was my closest neighbors, who I have never spoken with and my impression is they want it that way. They appear to be young people struggling to make it against internal and external problems. Their front window showed a lighted tree as I drove by, a sign of hope. They have young kids.

    Much thought today about my situation and that of so much of the world. I figured out that my income amounts to about $37.50 a day. And the few people willing to haul off some junk that I inherited when I bought this place want double that an hour, plus expenses. Something isn’t right. In many parts of the world my income would be a fortune, but here it is skirting with poverty. I don’t feel impoverished. I have a very nice roof over my head, I’m warm and dry, as much basic food to eat as I want, and a selection of “value” wines if I so choose. I can talk with you all. If some of you want to visit, I have room. Life is good. Except for my egg lady whose husband broke his leg badly in a logging accident, and he’s home driving her crazy, and they have kids, and now no income, and it’s Christmas.

    Multiply that by several billion. Throw in all those in prison, the homeless, the mentally and physically disabled, those under severe repressive dictatorships, those undergoing war, those in abusive emotional and physical relationships, those being exploited economically, sexually, religiously, this is not a pretty picture coming up. I am so fortunate, so blessed, if I won the Powerball and could live anywhere in the world, I would live out my life right here, maybe add a few creature comforts like turn up the thermostat a bit, even take a friend out to eat now and again.

    How does this compute? So many people are hoping for something for Christmas. I’m hoping to get thru it quietly with as little fuss as possible. I’m helping distribute presents to needy families this next Saturday, will probably see if I can lay a Benjamin on my egg lady to help keep food on the table and something for the kids, try to contact my brother whose birthday is then and will likely be his last as he wrestles his way off the planet with lung cancer. This is not exactly about joy to the world, but maybe sort of.

    I’m always glad when Christmas is over. The contrasts are just too stark and, if you let them, depressing. I will not be depressed, I am done with that. But my ultimate hope is to be finally done with this stint, this school of hard knocks, this ultimate opportunity to grow the most in the least amount of time, life on Planet Earth. I believe that humanity as a whole has made a great deal of progress since Jesus was born, but we’ve got a long way to go. Just ask our brother Faulty.

    So Merry Christmas! Jesus is the light of the world, our most bestest hope, and overcomes all that the world has to throw at him in the way of darkness and defeat. I will go out again tonight before I go to bed, take a pee with my doggies, step back and admire my Christmas lights, figure they might just be what it takes to tip this whole mess over into the Kingdom of God. Merry Christmas!

    • This is a wonderful posting, Charles, and of course the Christmas lights you put up are enough and more to tip the balance over into the Kingdom.

  11. A beautiful meditation. Thanks for posting this. I really miss Michael’s writing and insights.