It seems like a lifetime ago that I found myself in a very uncomfortable situation. It was Christmas time in 1989 and the local parent/teacher organization was looking for someone to play Santa Claus. I am not exactly sure why I became the person to be recruited for the job. I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered or insulted but after a bit of arm twisting, I agreed.
Something that you may not know about me. I hate costumes! The idea of putting on the clothes of another person and pretending to be someone else really bothers me. This was really stepping out of my comfort zone but the one factor that probably made me agree was that my son and one of my daughters would get to sit on Santa’s knee and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.
The day came for the party and everyone was excited to see Santa. I knew I would have to disguise my voice, especially around my kids because they would pick up on that very quickly and the one thing I wanted to accomplish, besides surviving in a costume, was to really fool my own kids.
The first of my children to come visit Santa was my daughter, Morgan. She was in kindergarten and was a little freaked out by Santa. Eventually I coaxed her to sit on my lap and also to let me know what she was hoping for on Christmas. It all went off without a hitch. She overcame a bit of her fear of Santa and I felt like she was none the wiser as to who this version of Santa really was.
My biggest challenge would be my son, Ryan. He was a sharp second grader and was already getting a bit skeptical about Santa, especially when thinking about making a trip around the whole world and the challenges of entering and exiting chimneys. He crawled up on my lap and everything again went off very well. He gave me no indications that he had any idea that it was me playing Santa. I left the party feeling like I had brightened the day of many children. It was also on that day that I resolved not to wear costumes again, but that is the subject for another day!
Later in the day, I was eager to hear from my kids about their experience with Santa and the Christmas Party. They each were excited and were especially glad that Santa had taken the time out of his busy toy building schedule to come and visit their school. And then my son made a very interesting observation. He said, “dad, do you know what was weird about Santa?” I told him no and asked him to explain. He told me that he thought it was weird that Santa’s hands and my hands looked exactly alike. I asked him to explain further and he pointed out two or three distinguishing marks on my hands that he noted were also present on Santa’s.
Now I don’t know if he was being clever and keeping his revelation to himself in order to not spill the beans with his sisters or that he just hadn’t made the connection but it created an interesting moment. And, it made me really stop and think a bit about life and how we live it.
Often times, especially as we get older, we begin to wear masks or costumes. Not literal masks or costumes but methods we employ to manage how other people see us. By now any person who is self- aware at even the lowest level has figured out that there are some things about themself that is less than. We don’t want other people to see them and so we learn how to hide what we really think, how we really feel, and who we really are.
But those who are closest to us, the people we trust and love, are able to see the imperfections and still find a way to love us. These are often family members, close friends, etc. Scripture envisions this type of closeness to those who are within the Body of Christ, the Church. A community where grace and accountability go hand in hand. A community where no masks are needed, in fact we are challenged to find the courage to move away from our masks and embrace our new identity as Christ-followers, new creation.
Learning to live in the community of Christ’ Body will require some new skills. We will need to learn how to be humble enough to admit and seek help for our addiction of self-centeredness. We will need to learn how to see progress and yet still occasionally stumble with the perspective given by Christ. We will need to learn to extend grace, first extended to us, to others around us as they also go through the processes I just mentioned above. It will mean rejecting the desire to manage our image, whether in person or on social media, from someone I really am to someone I want you to think I am. Santa’s job is to convince his audience that he is THE real Santa. Our job as Christ-followers is live our lives in authentic, humble devotion to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Merry Christmas!