"Gifts to remember" - December 24, 2012 by Robin Wardlaw
Christmas Eve, Year C Readings: Isaiah 9:2–7; Psalm 96; (Titus 2:11–14); Luke 2:1–14, (15–20)
There’s a quirky Christmas story about a woman who goes to the bank to talk to the manager and get a little more money on the family loan so she can afford gifts for her children. She finds the bank and manager more than a little intimidating. She has taken to bringing the children in the hopes of softening the stern manager somewhat. It doesn’t seem to work well, however.
This time, she brings both girls. In their snow suits. No, she can’t see the manager just now. Instead, the girls spot Santa coming into the teller area. He beckons to the girls, all jolly, and they race to him, and sit, one on either knee. He asks if they have been good, always brushing their teeth and doing with their mother asked and so on. They proceed to tell Santa what they want. Santa agrees to each item, as their lists go on and on to their wildest dreams, even bicycles. This is despite mother waving and mouthing no, no, from where she stands, horrified.
The girls come back to their mother. They and their brother will get everything, everything, on their lists! Now their mother will be allowed in to see the manager. He is sitting behind his desk, in his Santa suit, and yes, he would be happy to extend the loan. Those would have been memorable gifts for all involved, but for very different gifts.
What was your gift to remember? The mind races back to childhood, a certain year, a certain item, perhaps. Or perhaps a certain someone came home for Christmas after all. The kind of gift money can’t buy. And your mind may have gone to the present that would have been most memorable, if you had received it.
Christmas hasn’t always been about gifts under a tree. And we are not the only culture to have a tradition of mid-winter feasting and gift-giving. This was going on in ancient Rome. But now our ways are spreading to other places, other cultures. A rabbi has just come with a book for Jews on what to do at their houses around this time of year called A Kosher Christmas. Friends of ours who came from South Asian families to Britain to Canada, one of them Hindu, one of them Sikh, kept a much more lavish Christmas than we ever did. And it turns out tandoori turkey is delicious, as you may know.
Anyway, I have another friend here tonight, by special request, to make Christmas more memorable. He has taken time out from a very busy evening to be with us. Welcome, Santa! Thank you for coming.
Santa, I bet you were shocked by that mean bank manager pretending to be Santa in the story. Nothing like that is going to happen tonight, is it? No, it isn’t. Santa wouldn’t do that. What Santa is going to do is help out here. I’ve arranged it all, and Santa will be giving some very special gifts, right Santa?
Some of the gifts are certain people, but some are for everybody, right, Santa? OK, the first one if for me. Normally I wouldn’t go first, but you’ll know why I made an exception this year. I have asked Santa for a sense of humour. And I’ll take that now, Santa. Santa?
Moving on: Santa, you remember, I asked you to give a certain music director something to get over his shyness. No? This is not going just the way I thought it would. I thought we agreed, Santa. Should I bother going through the other people on my list? This is turning out to be a memorable Christmas, but not the way I thought.
Let’s review, Santa. You got famous back when you were alive, before you became a saint, because you helped out in the city where you lived in Turkey, right? Legend has it there were those three girls whose parents couldn’t afford doweries for them, so it looked as if they could never get married. Somehow people figured out that it was you who threw a bag of gold over the wall into the family’s compound, enough for a dowery. Then, after the wedding, another bag, and then another. You remember? Sure you do.
So is there anyone you know here who is planning to get married you want to help? Never mind my list. We know that girls are still having a tough time all over the world, and not so much with doweries, but with their own security, their right to get an education, among other things. Can you help them, Santa? No, why should it fall to you? We’re supposed to do something. Of course. Sounds like a tall order, Santa, but we take your point that there’s no magic solution, no laying a finger aside of a nose to make it suddenly all better.
And it wasn’t your idea to turn the season into an orgy of spending. You were a bishop, I believe–I know stories vary, and there are something like seven St. Nicholas on record altogether. As I was saying, you were a bishop, not a promotional agent for retailers. You were interested in the gospel, not good sales. But you have a long association with Christmas, especially in places such as Holland and Germany.
Well, listen. Let’s wrap this up, Santa, so to speak. OK, that wasn’t that funny. That’s why I was really hoping for a sense of humour. Maybe later tonight? Maybe next year? Alright, I won’t push it.
What people are here for is something memorable. And it’s right here on this table. This meal joins us together in beautiful, peaceful, radical ways with people all over the world and all through time. This is the feast we really want: the feast of justice, freedom, joy and hope. Some of us are privileged. We have those things already. Many others are still waiting. And when we come to this table, we unite our hearts and minds with all the others. We acknowledge how hungry we are for good things to come to all people and all creatures. We remember how satisfying it is to be able to dine like this, as if goodness and fair sharing had already happened.
So thanks, again, Santa. We thank you for all the generosity and caring you represent, all the daring love that wants dignity for everybody. We thank you, Nicholas, for all the times you celebrated communion with congregations so long ago and far away. We don’t need to be as famous as you. We just want to be remembered as people who knew how to keep Christmas–in our hearts, in our homes, and in this world that so longs for hope and peace.