“You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout; I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.”
On Christmas Eve, my sister and I would run up the steps and bang on the front door to Grandma’s house. Grandma would open the door to her warm, carefully-decorated house, and as we thawed from the wintry cold she would click her tongue and regretfully inform us that, just like every year, we had just missed Santa Claus. But we knew that even if we missed him, he had brought us presents. After dinner, we would rip open our presents and enjoy the thrill and anticipation of each new box. My hope was in knowing that there were still plenty of boxes to unwrap. All around me, cameras would flash and conversation would erupt over the latest news and the funniest jokes of the season. My family members would coo over the gifts that I received. Finally, my hands would grab the final gift under the tree. I would slowly rip off the paper, savoring the last bit of excitement of the evening. I would open the box, and the fun would be over. With the last present opened, the party would cease. Family members would rub their eyes and call it a night. We would all hug each other, pack up our cars with new stuff, and go home. Each year, I would go home feeling empty. Did we really wait all year just to go over Grandma’s house, open a few presents, and that’s it? After all that anticipation, I didn’t even get to meet Santa Claus.
“He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.”
I did the best I could to be a good child. But if I really thought about it, I didn’t know what was good or bad, and I didn’t know what Santa Claus really thought of me. I just did whatever my parents told me. The fact that I received presents every year confirmed that I was doing something right. Still, I didn’t think a few nice presents were worth following a bunch of boring rules. What I really wanted was some love and attention. I wanted to be noticed not just for what I did, but for who I was. I wanted a reward that satisfied me. Santa Claus could only offer me toys that made me happy for a few days.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”
Someone, somewhere, was watching me. I had a perfect image to uphold. If I made a mistake, that would be the end. And that someone watching me would remember my mistake forever. Around Christmastime, kids care if Santa Claus is watching. But ONLY during Christmastime do they care. I have never gone to the beach on a hot July day and heard a parent threaten her kids with the notion that they may not get Christmas presents. All year round, kids need constant attention. Kids need tender loving care, all year round. They don’t need a list of rules to follow; they need a loving protector who will watch them and guide them. At the age of twelve, I met the one that I needed. For my whole life, I had thought that this someone was like Santa Claus, waiting for me to mess up so he could stop giving me presents. I thought he was distant and that he hated me. I thought he could never love such a stupid worthless failure like me. But I was wrong. I was totally wrong.
“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.”
As a child, I knew that story of Jesus coming to Earth. But that was all it was to me: a story. As I learned the Christmas story in church, I didn’t know that one day this story would change my life. Later in life, when I was about six, my family stopped attending church, and my mom began to teach me what she believed to be the truth about God. According to her, God was in heaven, and until we would go to heaven, he was unattainable. Eventually, due to confusion, I stopped caring about God. I tried to survive on my own. As I got older, this became harder and harder to do. All that I was able to do was develop an anxiety disorder and lose complete control, not only of my body, but of the world around me. Looking back on my childhood, I cannot remember one constant thing in my life. I tried to make sense of it all. I tried to express how I felt. I can remember nothing but chaos and turmoil. I was taught to be quiet and stuff my feelings because no one cared anyway. I was surrounded by people, but I was all alone. I desperately needed help. I would sob alone in my room, looking up at the stars brightly shining in the sky, begging someone to hear my prayers.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”
One day, my dad dragged me back to church to attend youth group, which is basically church for teenagers. On that night, I heard the Christmas story in a way that I had never heard it before, in a way that completely transformed my life. God humbly left his heavenly throne to become a small baby that would grow up and learn about human struggles. He would heal people and share about how much God loved them. He would die a death that he did not deserve so that we could have access to God again. He would rise from the dead to prove that he is stronger than death. Jesus came to Earth, not to show how high and unattainable he was, but to show how much he loved me. On that night, no one forced me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My pastor taught us a prayer, but no one in that room could hear if I was actually praying. But God heard my prayer, and he showed me who he really was. He wasn’t waiting for me to mess up. He cared about me and looked out for my well-being all year round. He forgave my sins, and even though I still make mistakes, he reminds me every day that he loves me too much to even notice my mistakes. After choosing to follow him, I’ve learned that I am valuable. Since he appeared, my soul has felt its worth.
“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Since I made the decision to follow Jesus, each Christmas means something to me. We still exchange gifts, but I remember the most special gift I have ever received. I don’t feel that empty feeling anymore. I feel complete. I don’t have to live alone anymore; God is ever present. I don’t have to long for more; God is everything I need. I don’t have to remember the past that left me broken and feeling worthless; today is a new day, a new and glorious morning.
“Fall on your knees, and hear the angel voices: O night divine, O night when Christ was born.”
What if Christmas meant more than opening gifts and waiting for Santa Claus to show us whether we have been good or bad? What if God really did come to Earth? How would your life be different if you truly believed that Jesus came to this Earth to give you hope, to fill you completely and to show you your true worth? God came to your world to show you how much he loved you. He is offering you a free gift that will satisfy your soul. You have a choice: will you accept it, or will you be content with that small thrill of anticipation year after year?