A Christmas Visitor

How can we imagine a new star lighting the sky until . . .

Christmas was near when a visitor arrived at the church I then served. He told the receptionist he needed to see a priest. She notified me and I came out to greet him.

I led him back to my office.

Like many, I sometimes make snap judgments. Like many, I’ll sometimes be wrong.

I assumed a visitor that “needed” a priest would be Roman Catholic. Moments into our conversation, as I wondered aloud about his faith, he said he wasn’t Catholic. He then mentioned his prior employment was in Los Angeles, where he’d worked on several “major motion picture film crews.” (Ah, Hollywood! Did he think me like a generic, wise movie priest comforting anxious souls, ready for a confession from the wounded—but well-lighted—hero?)

Wrong about his faith background, I was soon wrong about another of my snap judgments . . . that he was here to scam the church for money. Would he plead for a few bucks for a motel room? Maybe he’d claim a sick kid waited in the car, desperate for medicine? Or help to pay for a rebuilt carburetor? In the churches I’ve served, there have been countless cash requests, accompanied by tales about real (and fake) sick children and, yes, once even a carburetor was the reason. Some begged. Some demanded. Some wept.

But my visitor never mentioned money. Continue reading →

In the Shadows of Christmas Eve

Shadows marched back and forth in the hall . . .

Such a dark room; I wasn’t asleep, and I wasn’t alone.

Were the others also open-eyed and alert, faking slumber?

Who were the others? Memory fails me. All of the California family on my mother’s side had gathered for Christmas on the ranch. Or, as I called it when a child, “Grandma and Grandpa’s farm.” On that way-back-when gathering, all the west-coast siblings were together. For me, they were the best aunts and uncles in the world. My cousins were also there. Our collective numbers challenged the limits of our grandparents’ house.

Who was jammed into the room with me?

Was it just us guys? Did the girl cousins have their own room or were we kids divided by age or matched by happenstance?

I can’t remember.

But who cares about roommates when it’s Christmas Eve? What I do recall is that I was a “loser:” no bed for me! Instead, in my jammies, and with a full tummy after one of Grandma’s endless meals, I was delegated to the floor. Continue reading →

Have Yourself a Merry Little Fake Christmas!

According to my wife’s family tales, her younger brother once ruined the lives of many children. Likely around the year-end holidays, he announced to his classmates that Santa didn’t exist.

What!

No Santa Claus?

These exploits took place in elementary school. My wife’s father was a Moravian pastor. Both parents, while mentioning Santa’s peculiar role in the gift-giving traditions, were honest from the get-go: Christmas was about Jesus’ birth. Olde St. Nick had little influence on their Christmas anticipation and celebration.

And yet what about other kids?

Many believed in Santa. With his elf minions and gallant reindeer, the North Pole’s #1 citizen was idolized. He was forever preparing for a late December globe-trotting trip to slip gifts beneath a well-lighted tree! Christmas notes were written: Santa Claus, North Pole. Soon, millions of cookies appeared on millions of plates, ready to welcome the hearty, hungry fellow!

Come, sweet Santa! Hurry, generous Santa!

Then along came little Dan. (Yeah, let’s use my brother-in-law’s actual name.) Continue reading →