Thursday, December 21, 2017

Santa and the Stranger

Twas the night before Christmas … – C.C. Moore

Santa sat in his easy chair sawing logs when he was awakened by the approaching jingle jangle of Oof-Dah, the house elf.

“Santa,” whispered Oof-Dah, “it’s time.”

Santa wiped the crusty sleep from his blood-shot eyes while squinting toward a novelty clock that hung upon the wall. Rudolph’s hands pointed out the hour and minutes whilst his tail swung away in the rhythmic dance of a pendulum. It took Santa’s peepers a few moments to clear away enough eye-slime to see the time.

“Not again,” he groaned, as much to himself as to Oof-Dah.

There once was a time when Santa loved Christmas. For one thing, Christmas wasn’t a day, but a way of life. In fact, not only was Christmas a way of life, it was THE way of life. This was long before Santa was even called Santa; he was Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

Towns-folk knew him as a nice old man who mostly spent time tending to the business of his church – reading, writing, preparing sermons, hearing confessions, pronouncing absolutions for the penitent of heart. He visited the homes of the sick, anointing them with oil, offering prayers, a gentle touch upon their fevered brows, baptizing those who appeared ready to take their final journey into the loving arms of God.

Nicholas could often be found wandering the port-side piers, talking to sailors, taking in hand letters to loved ones (to be delivered in the event they did not return from their nautical sojourns). Sailors would occasionally hand Nicholas a coin or two, asking him to help those in need. It didn’t seem like much to those crusty salts, but it was something, and they knew they could, in their own meager way, help Nicholas carry out his charitable work.

Nicholas would also visit the prisons, conversing with both guards and prisoners. Many detainees languished in jail, lost and forgotten by their families – disowned, even. They relied on the mercy of this holy man who brought food and water to help meet their most basic needs.

Sometimes Nicholas was their only visitor; he treated both guards and prisoners with the same love and respect he showed to all people. He reminded the guards that despite the differences of their situations, “all are brothers and sisters,” so he admonished them to “treat one another as you would be treated.”

Nicholas died, as all people do, but he was not forgotten. He exemplified in his own life the way he believed Jesus of Nazareth had lived. There were three pillars to his faith: Do justice; be merciful; walk humbly with God. Beyond that, there was nothing more to do than to practice those principles in all one’s affairs.

Santa looked up with a start. He found himself doing that more and more – reminiscing on the old days when things were simpler, the days before he had been transformed from a living, breathing, loving bishop of far-away Myra to a jolly old elf of the frozen northlands – a mythical creation with so-called magical powers, but no real substance.

Ever since Moore captured him in that fanciful poem, Santa had become a prisoner of Commercial Interests. The kind and gentle saint had been Gulagged – interned in a frozen wasteland from which there was no escape.

No escape, unless …

Oof-Dah gave Santa a wink.

Santa looked at his shackled wrists – chained to the belts of Avarice, Inebriation, and Accumulation – and in just a blink of the eye, his fetters fell away.

Oof-Dah smiled. “You’re free, Santa,” was all he said.

Santa sat there gob smacked. “Wha-happened?” he queried, wondering just how on earth he had been suddenly set free from the shackles of a commercialized perdition.

As Santa pondered the imponderable he glanced at the nearby fireplace. Astride a blazing yule log, a solitary figure stood silently and slipped some keys into a robe that was somehow not consumed by the flames. The Mysterion said not a word, but Santa perceived an answer to his unspoken questions in the face of the One who was not a stranger, but a friend. That message?

Do justice, Be Merciful. Walk humbly with God.

“Ho ho ho-kay,” he laughed, and holding tight the hand that freed him, went about dispensing gifts of love, joy, and peace to all in need.

May all who find themselves in Santa's muck-lucks find themselves likewise unshackled by the One who came to set all people free; Merry Christmas from this, our valley!

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