Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wise Men Still Seek Him

We saw the sign on our way east last week.

“Santa Claus, Indiana.” Now there’s a name. I figured it must be the location for the Big Guy’s summer home.Then I read another sign—Santa Claus Christmas Store. But there was no time to stop. The last time we saw our newest grandbaby she was a month old, still learning to focus her eyes.

Seven months later, she’s a crawling, standing hurricane-about-to-happen, and we couldn’t get to Kentucky fast enough. Indiana would have to celebrate Christmas without us.

But today is different. This morning we kissed that sweet little red head goodbye and headed west back home. Today the tears come and go like temperamental waterfalls. So when that Indiana billboard showed up again, it was exactly the right medicine for my sad little heart. Christmas always cheers me up, even on December 28th. I have a feeling they celebrate it year round in these rolling Indiana hills.
We parked facing a life-sized replica of Santa himself. Two more clones, dressed in red plastic velvet, completed the welcoming party as we stepped up on to the sidewalk. Once inside the store, time stood still in this town where it’s always December 25th. The entire length of one wall displayed foot tall Santa’s in every collegiate color combo, footballs poised for a mass launch. Ornaments adorned every wall, and shoppers wandered aisles of Lenox nativity displays near rooms of discounted Christmas trees. I stood delighting in a display of whimsical Rudolph figurines when a gentle voice on my left broke into my thoughts.

“And remember to brush your teeth daily,” he was saying. I turned to see who was talking.

“And say your prayers every night, ok?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” young voices answered.

Around the corner I saw him--it was the town’s unofficial mayor, Santa. On the 28th day of December, the jolly old elf was still making house calls. I had to listen in and see where this was going.

In a room straight out of my North Pole daydreams, full of giant candy canes, toy trains and brightly embellished cascading garlands, two young children stood facing a familiar figure seated in a red velvet high backed chair—a guy who should have been resting at home with his boots propped up. To my surprise, there sat Santa himself—I know it was really him because his beard was real—imparting the wisdom of the ages to these two latecomers. I was mesmerized.

“Now you know why we celebrate Christmas, don’t you?” he was asking the young brother and sister. They nodded yes. “You know whose birthday it is, right?” he followed up. They nodded again.

“And if you take some time every day to talk with Him, well, things will always go a lot better for you in life,” he concluded. “Okay,” he finished up, “let’s have a hug.” And he gathered the two kids up in his arms to face the camera flash with big smiles. I stood amazed.

I’ve never seen Santa talk about Jesus to kids before. He stood up, hugged the children’s mom, too, and the family waved goodbye to him and his fellow elves who stood ready at the camera. I had to talk with this guy and find out where he found the courage to cross into forbidden territory, telling complete strangers—and children at that—how even Santa knows what Christmas is really about.

“Excuse me,” I began, “I heard you talking to those two kids, and I’d like to take your picture, if that’s all right.”

He seemed surprised by my request, but posed good naturedly.

“I’m not afraid to tell people the truth anymore,” he explained. “Every morning I get up and ask God what He wants me to say before I come in here. This is a ministry for me, and I love it. I’ve found my purpose this year,” he concluded.

We let our kids believe in Santa when they were growing up because it didn’t interfere with the solid foundation we were teaching them about the birth of Jesus. Last Christmas, I searched out an ornament I’d seen and wanted desperately to hang on our tree. It depicts Santa Claus kneeling, hat in hand, at the side of a manger where the Christ Child lays. I don’t think Santa competes with the true meaning of Christmas, and that little ornament shows how he can be a complement to the reason for the season.

Today, I met a man who brought that ornament’s representation to life, living it out truthfully because it’s part of who he really is. “I’m here to glorify God,” this Santa told me. “It’s my ministry to point people to the true meaning of Christmas. I hope the store will invite me back next year to do it again.”

Finally, Virginia. The solid proof to the answer given you all those years ago in The New York Sun. There is a Santa Claus. You can find him worshipping at the feet of Jesus. In Santa Claus, Indiana.

Merry Christmas.

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