I actually wrote this post December 12th, 2013 I just never published it. Now after Epiphany is over, I unleash this post on the world.
Just three weeks ago my bishop, Rev. Jim Dorff had me in tears, not cute one drop down my right cheek tears, ugly tears – the kind of tears that stream down the face of children when they learn that Santa Claus is just dad in his pjs or mom in a red bathrobe. I sat in my seminary (Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary) as the Bishop explained to a member of Trinity UMC why the UMC is still oppressing persons called into ministry and excluding them from entering into the harvest. Jesus said that the harvest was plentiful but the workers are few and yet despite the scarce amount of workers the UMC still finds ways to keep willing and able people from harvesting. I saw my bishop, a man called to lead me and my conference defend this injustice, and I cried because I realized that Santa Claus is not real.
When I was going to school at Round Rock High, a school technically in the Central Texas Conference, I was asked by a small child if Santa was real – and I answered instantly, “Of course Santa is real! How else do billions of kids around the world all get presents on Christmas?” This child had already been informed that the mascot of commercialism and materialism that pops up around Mid-November was nothing more than a tall tale used to sell products to millions of people who can’t afford them. He replied to me, “Duh moms and dads buy them for their kids!” this child is right, moms and dads buy the toys and have them wrapped and place them under the tree and even eat the cookies and drink the milk (despite what it will do to their waistlines), but just because they do it does not subtract from the reality of the miracle of Santa.
I said that billions of children got presents each year and that was not an exaggeration. Santa exists through World Vision, Operation Christmas Child, Compassion International, the Heifer Project, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and many other organizations. Santa is not one person; Santa is everyone working together so that all might be blessed. Santa Claus has outgrown the influence of his predecessor Saint Nicholas because Santa can be anywhere at any time. Santa Claus may not live in the North Pole, or be fat and jolly, climb down chimneys, but that does not mean that he is not real. “An artist tells a lie to tell a greater truth”, said the character V from V for Vendetta, Santa is the lie that tells us of the truth of God’s abundant grace. God’s grace does not just stay with children who have parents to buy them presents on Christmas; it goes to the orphanages, and to the streets and across the globe.
In the same manner God’s grace does not just stop on the majority group of the UMC, it calls out to the racial minorities, to the women, to the people on the margins, to the small churches as well the Church of the Resurrection, it overflows on the Confessing Movement as well as on the Reconciling Ministries Network. God’s grace calls everyone, and unfortunately for some – the Holy Spirit is not predictable. Unlike Santa Claus the Holy Spirit operates on its own schedule and makes its own rules (that’s the one of the perks of being Almighty God). The Spirit calls men like David, Paul, Sampson, and John. The Spirit calls children like Samuel, that boy with five loaves and two fish, and Miriam. The Spirit calls women like Ruth, Deborah, Mary, Mother Theresa, Rachel Held Evans, and women like Mary Ann Barclay. And the Spirit calls people like Bishop Dorff.
I cried because I realized that Santa was not real, the bishop was not going to come with a giant sack of toys and bless me by placing an inclusive church under my Christmas tree. That would be too easy. Santa is real though – he is you and I working together towards the same goal, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It starts right here, even now in the SWTX Annual Conference the Holy Spirit is transforming hardened hearts into open hearts, closed minds into open minds, and God is swinging wide the doors so that all may find a place filled with gifts that cannot be wrapped. Thanks be to God. Amen.