by Elton HiggsI had a conversation with Santa Claus this morning. It came just after my wife and I had noted, while taking our morning walk in a small mall, that the piped-in music was unrelentingly secular; and that led us to lament the season’s loss of religious meaning in our society as a whole. We met “Santa” as he was strolling the central corridors of the mall. He wasn’t in costume yet, but he was dressed festively in a green vest and a red cap, with other seasonal colors as decoration. He greeted us affably, and we fell into brief conversation. He affirmed that he was, indeed, “Santa Claus,” and he cheerfully confided to us that he considered it a great privilege to have the children on his lap and to listen to their hopes and stories. “They warm my heart,” he informed us in the robust voice that enables him to boom out “Merry Christmas” to passers-by as he sits on his Santa throne. We parted from him to continue our walk, but we saw him a couple of times more as we perambulated.
We noticed that he was consciously engaging people who were standing around waiting for the shops to open. At one point we observed him grasping a man’s hand and having earnest conversation with him. The next time we saw him, we asked if he was praying with the man, and he affirmed he was. “I try to be of help to people if they’re willing to talk.” It was obvious that he regarded his pre-duty time at the mall as a ministry opportunity. “Take a look at my van out there in the parking lot. It has a ‘Put Christ back in Christmas’ sign on it. I try to do what I can to point people to Jesus, whatever their religious affiliation.” We wished him God’s blessings in both his official and his unofficial activities, and in turn he blessed us on our way.
Reflecting on this experience, I accepted it as God’s answer to our lament about the secularization of Christmas in the world around, and about the general increase of hostility toward religion in the past few decades. In the face of that discouraging situation, God is working through a portrayer of Santa Claus (a prime icon of secularization) to touch people’s lives with divine love and concern.
Keep up the good work, brother! The mall management may be paying you to be Santa for the kids and their parents, but you are obviously working for a higher Master. And when I walk by and see the kids on your knee and the parents looking on, I’d venture to say that they’re getting more out of the encounter than they know, for I suspect that they’re being prayed for as well as being given a listening ear and a jolly laugh.
As for me, perhaps I would do well when I walk in the mall this Christmas season to lay aside my self-righteous carping about secularization of the holiday and be on the lookout for opportunities God may open up for me to be a blessing to someone else who is there, even if it’s only to say a prayer for someone who looks sad or unhappy. And if the piped-in music distorts the season, I can always hum some real Christmas music to myself.