As a child, I loved Christmas. The mystical arrival of presents. The all-encompassing joy from everyone. The melody of songs floating in the air. Each moment was wrapped with happiness.
Even with all the joyful splendor, I remember always wanting more, and not just more presents, but more answers. How did these presents arrive? Is Santa truly real? What is Christmas all about?
I remember waiting up late at night trying to catch Santa in the act. I remember combing through the cookie crumbs to see if I could find traces of his presence. I remember looking at the snow on our rooftop, hoping to discover reindeer tracks. Through all my tryings, other than the surprising arrival of presents, I still could not find any exacting evidence.
I wanted the physical Santa and a physical Christmas, not just the spirit of Santa and the joy of Christmas.
Our faith is just the same.
The arrival of Christ born alive as the incarnation of God is that physical evidence that I, we, longed for on Christmas. No longer did we just have the spirit of God, but the physical God. The proof was there. Tracks were marked through history, scored into the sand. Crumbs were left on the plate after the breaking of the bread. Presents were left in truths that have been passed down for generations. For 33 years, some man walked our Earth as the supposed Son of God, and then he was gone. 2000 years later, people still recount his name and long for the physical presents of God. The precious presence is no longer here to behold.
The gifts, however, still remain.
In the simple kindness of a stranger helping someone with their spilled groceries. In the generosity of people who volunteer their time for others. In students who take time away from their learning to help another student struggling to grasp the concept. In cards arriving in the mail for people reminding us that we are loved. In parents who stay up late into the night to assist Santa with arranging gifts and treats left before the fireplace. In grandparents who travel across the country to be with their grandchildren during the holidays.
This year is different. 2020 changes the presence of gifts. Cross-country travel delays the arrival of friends and relatives. Rather than hands and hugs, we hold phones and wrap our arms around screens reaching for the presence of another. The reality of presents are wrapped differently this year. However different, the wrapping is not the gift.
The presents are the proof.
The gifts are all that we need.
The presence is all around us.
We still long for proof of God’s existence, but that gift is an impossible one to wrap.
We may look for Him in the hospital as we struggle to say goodbye to a parent. We may search for Her as we help people down the line at a soup kitchen. We may wonder for God’s presence in a moment of joy or tragedy.
Santa, just like our faith, is impossible to catch in the act. Try as we might, it will always arrive just moments after we fall asleep.
Try as we might to discover the perfectly trimmed wrapping paper, the wrapping ain’t the gift. We are the gift. We can’t see it because we don’t believe it. We are the incarnation, the gift we all long for. We cannot prove it, because it has been here the whole time.
The presence of God is alive as presents in the people of our lives. Our lives are gifts to one another. Proof of God’s existence. Like Santa’s gifts, we may not understand how they arrived here, but the presents all wrapped with care is proof that St. Nick, and God, had surely been there.
Merry Christmas! May the joy of Christ’s incarnation come alive in the presence of each person you meet. May we see through the stained glass reality of our screens the sacredness of God illuminated.