Here’s a problem: we are conditioned to stop believing in Santa Claus by a certain age. No matter what kind of answer you give today, most of us have come to a symbolic understanding of Santa. We grew up. Life, for one reason or another, took the real idea of Santa Claus from our lives years ago. So we feast on the symbolic and encourage the lie of the literal in the lives of children; until they too will discover what we know: everyone is deceiving each other for the purposes of goodwill and holiday cheer. Despite our unbelief in a jolly man in a red suit, we keep the fiction alive. It is a secret, a covenant held by those who’ve stopped believing and now embrace the deception. Yes, millions of adults lie to children about a mythical character who resides in an area of the world most at risk from climate change. That’s got to be healthy, right?
This is what we (as a culture and society) do to keep the idea of Santa Claus alive and well. Santa is the forerunner, messenger, and bringer of Christmas presents. As countless Christmas movies and books remind us, without Santa, there would be no Christmas. What if the church placed this same level of importance on John the Baptizer? Isn’t John the Baptizer the Santa Claus of the Jesus story? If Jesus was the original Christmas present, then John was the forerunner who announced and presented the gift to the world? We, in our infinite Christological wisdom, have focused on birth narratives and John’s presence at the Epiphany so that we’ve trained ourselves to stop believing in John’s importance to the Advent story. We ignore John. He’s the homeless man in the desert. John makes us uncomfortable. Our notions of propriety and order are challenged by John’s preaching. John makes a much better metaphor than he does a flesh and bones character who we must take seriously. Perhaps he’s suitable for decoration in the background, but that’s about it. That’s how it usually goes.
Without eight tiny reindeer and Santa, there is no Christmas. Without John, the river Jordan, and a message of preparation, there is no Good News. Santa needs a sled. The Lord requires a path prepared, a way made straight. Valleys should be filled, and mountains leveled. Curves ought to be made straight and the rough parts smoothed out. John’s calling attention to the need to prepare the path. He’s asking for help, a UMVIM team of prophetic path pavers. We become the means of getting the Good News from points A to B.
The best part about John’s message is there is no deception. All humanity becomes a witness to God’s Good News. No one is living a lie to maintain a lie. If the Good News is done right, everyone is on a level field and has access to God. The Good News calls us to be who we are, where we are. In the wilderness God is preparing: all are welcome and no one is illegal.
Merry Christmas John the Baptizer, I Believe In You.
Richard Lowell Bryant