Saturday, November 28, 2009

advent devotional

every year, our church publishes an advent devotional, with writings and artwork created by members of our church for each day of advent. my contribution from last year--written long before eliza died, ironically--holds particular significance for me again this year; below is this year's piece. (someone asked me if i made up this story: nope, it's really true. a sweet, sweet memory.)

Santa is the king of Christmas.

Have you been in a store since Halloween? From orange and black, all pumpkiny and harvesty, straight to tinsel and lights and ho-ho-hos. Maybe retailers figure the harvest-themed Halloween stuff covered Thanksgiving, too. Meanwhile, Santa started making his appearance right around November 1. The king of Christmas, indeed.

Growing up, we always went to the family-friendly Mass in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. It was standard stuff: kids dressed up and reciting the same sweet lines every year, as angels and shepherds (“Glory to God in the highest!”) and innkeepers (“No room, no room! Go away, go away!”) and a donkey (“Clip clop, clip clop”) and some trees even (“Swish, swish“). And faithful Mary and Joseph, too (“My wife, Mary, is having a baby. It is hard for her to travel,” and, “Don’t worry, dear Joseph: God is watching over us”). Years and years after we had graduated from the ranks of the participants, my sister and I loved to go to this Mass and relive our glory days of filling those roles, remembering with too much pride having graduated last of all to the coveted role of narrator.

But the pageantry and cute little angels were never the highlight of the Christmas Eve Mass. I wish I could say the celebration of the Eucharist or the stirring homily was. But no. The highlight came after the children had sung and signed the first verse of “Silent Night,” when the sanctuary was darkened, lit only by candles and the white lights on the wreaths and trees. That’s when we would hear the faint jingle of bells and the door to the church opening. Silently, silently, Santa would enter the sanctuary and walk down the center aisle. He would reach the altar; genuflect and pray silently for a good, long moment; cross himself; and turn to leave. No candy canes, no ho-ho-hos, no reindeer or elves or presents. Just the worldly king of Christmas bowing to the King Himself.

“[A]t the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

I think some of the older people were bothered that Santa should sully the mass so. I know many of the littlest children took no notice of what exactly Santa was doing, filled as their heads were with visions of sugar plums and flying reindeer and bulging stockings. But this simple moment in the Mass brought tears to many more people’s eyes. For a moment—just a moment—Christmas and all its trappings were put right back in their place: the manger of the Christ child.

King of Christmas or no, this season and this day are about nothing but bowing the knee to the Prince of Peace. No matter how many gifts we get or don’t get, no matter whether they’re the right size or not, there’s only one Perfect Gift that we need: we’ve already got it, and it fits like nothing else could. It’s a little bit of the “already and not yet” so familiar from sermons and Bible studies and Christian books. The King has already come—Praise the Lord!—but we spend this season waiting. He has already been born, has already saved us, has already suffered and died, has already risen and ascended. Yet we wait in this too-busy season intended for silence and anticipate His coming again. In all of our busy-ness of shopping and decorating and baking and giving and receiving and ho-ho-hoing, may we not forget that it all bows the knee at the feet of the coming-and-already-come King.


Meredith said...

I always teared up too, D.

Patricia Berman said...

As did I....I miss those days

mathmom said...


This was so totally not how I imagined the piece ending. I almost gave up reading the paragraph where Santa showed up in the mass. "Just another treatise bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas," I thought. I had to go back and reread that paragraph after I got to the end and realized I was missing something. The image of Santa kneeling at the cross is perfect, one that will stay with me. Thanks.