Christmas Eve, 1971. The boy was six years old and up much too late. But honestly, what child in his right mind can will himself to sleep when Santa is due? Of course, Mom and Dad wanted him to go to bed, as did his older brother and sister. They had other Christmas obligations as yet unfulfilled. But all he had to do was go to bed.
He knew it was a thin edge, but he’d make it to bed before the jolly old Elf arrived, and if he played his cards right, he might even catch a glimpse – or at least hear him. It was 10:00 pm, and the schedule was clear: Santa comes at midnight. How exactly that important fact came to be known he wasn’t sure, but it was a fact nonetheless.
His sister heard it first, and he thought she was just pulling his leg, but then Mom heard it too. Everyone got very quite and, low and behold, there it was – the sound of sleigh bells. It was high overhead and barely audible, but it was there. SANTA WAS EARLY!
He must be in some kind of circling pattern, perhaps heading to Bermuda then back to Florida. Surely there was still time! Anxiety was building, but the plan was sound, so the boy stuck to it. Then Santa landed! Right outside the house! There was no mistaking the banging and clanging. And as if that weren't proof enough, Dad came flying into the house. He had seen him land! Santa was on his way in!
The gig was up; it looked like all was lost. The boy ran to bed as fast as he could. He didn’t peek, or open the door, or even brush his teeth; he just went to bed. This was much too close a call.
Had he not known that Santa was coming that night, he might have missed it. The sleigh bells could have been mistaken for a distant train. He could have imagined the reindeer landing to be a ladder clanging, or rocks on the roof. But he believed, and it was that belief that gave clarity to the evidence. Not only did he believe . . . he wanted it. As much as a six-year-old can want anything, he wanted Santa.
In the following years, the boy thought he heard Santa a few more times, but never again was the encounter quite so close.
I’ve learned something about the value of “want,” and its effect on faith. We see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. While some may think this is cynical evidence that the objects of our faith are mere fantasy conjured up in juvenile minds, it’s just the opposite.
The fact that we want love, acceptance, joy, meaning, and forgiveness is powerful proof that fulfillment of these desires exists. The want for these good things is evidence that either there is satisfaction for our deepest desires, or life is a chaotic, meaningless accident. What a cruel and senseless creator; what a cruel and senseless creation – if we’ve been imbued at our deepest level with a desire that cannot be satisfied.
Deep in the heart of every person is a desire – a want – for the good and pure and true. Those desires of our heart are placed there by God that they might drive us to seek Him. For a six-year-old, that want might be personified in a kind and strong man that brings toys and happiness, but there is a deeper answer – a true satisfaction.
God created us to love and to be loved. He loves us so much that he granted us the freedom to turn from him, and we did – every single one of us. But his love was so boundless that, despite our faults, flaws, and self-centered depravity, He reached across eternity to rebuild what we destroyed, to touch that deep desire in us that is a broken reflection of his image. In his wisdom, He didn’t do it through punishment and retribution. He did it through a baby. He became one of us that he might be one with us. He suffered our pain and endured our punishment that we might be eternally restored to him in love, acceptance, joy, meaning, and forgiveness.
There are a thousand good reasons to believe in this God we call Jesus, but today I am focused on this one: There’s no other story that I so desperately want to be true. Of all the myths, stories, and religions, there’s no other that resonates so completely within my soul.
During this Christmas season, I hope you’ll take time to consider this Jesus, this Immanuel, this God with us. Is he the one your heart has been seeking?