December 24, 1984. That was my pivotal Christmas. That was the year I came to an intersection in my life with regard to Christmas, faith, and belief. It happened at the last crossroads of the epic transitional turn from childhood to adulthood. So much of the way I view Christmas today, was strewn about in pieces at the middle of that intersection that night. I didn’t know it that night, but the choice I made while lying in my bed that Christmas Eve would still be having an epic impact on my life to this day. It happened this way.
On Christmas Eve 1984, I laid completely soundless in my bed, covers pulled up over my ears. One eye open and one eye shut, I tried desperately to force myself to sleep. The clock read 12:07am. There would be no sleep to rescue me this night. Perhaps the covers pulled over my head would deafen the blusterous, heavy-handed sound I did not want to hear. But to no avail. My mother and father had just hurriedly ushered me to sleep. “Now go to sleep, Santa has to come, and he gets tired easy these days.” The lack of subtlety in their words offered me little hope. Perhaps they thought I had come to terms with that which I had refused to come to terms with as a brand new adolescent. With that statement, and the lights of the house still being on and beaming through the bottom of my closed door, the last little bit of hope I had left, was slowly leaking out of my heart.
All of a sudden…12:17am…a reprieve! Out of nowhere, suddenly at the bottom of my door appeared the spectacle of two giant feet, their shadow burst through the bottom of my door as they were backlit by the light in my parents’ bedroom. They moved ever so slowly toward the door. The doorknob turned, the door cracked open…could it be!!?? I closed my eyes and breathed heavy to give the appearance of deep sleep. The words of my parents every Christmas Eve before this one bolted through my head. “If you’re not asleep, Santa won’t come!” I sensed a figure of some sort. As the figure exited, I turned quickly to see. Shatteringly, hope blown. I saw the back of my mom turn and walk out the door. The next thing I heard was the closet door in their room open. I heard the ruffling of paper bags. I watched footsteps scamper back and forth across the shadow of my bedroom door into the place where Santa had always left our gifts around the tree. There seemed to be no effort whatsoever of covertness.
In that very moment, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. My throat began to lump. The warmth of the salty tear rolled down my cheek, broke apart the cold December feel in the room. I desperately wanted all my friends to be wrong. Christmas didn’t seem to be epic to them anymore. They had already made the turn at the intersection and left me behind. Even in the uncertainty of this moment, I refused to follow them. They listened to rap and pop music at Christmas. I still listened to Bing Crosby and watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I refused. I would not let it be just another month or Holiday. I found myself at the intersection everyone had always talked about, but I didn’t want to believe it.
Strangely, I knew how epic this moment was that lay before me. The direction I went from this extraordinary moment in time, would determine more than just Christmas from this day forward. It would determine everything. I knew that if I went one way, Christmas would go from color to black and white for me. I would never listen to Christmas music the same way, I would never see Christmas decorations the same way, I would never anticipate the rush of the season the same way. Christmas Eve would never be the same for me. But most of all, I would leave wonder in the dust, and I would march to the same humdrum beat as the rest of society. I refused.
The choice was still mine. It was a difficult choice, but it was also strangely beautiful and perfect. I had dreaded this day and this moment. I had fought it. I wanted things to continue as I had always known them. But the fight for wonder and joy was all of a sudden before me, and in spite of any misperceived disappointment, the fight was worth it. In that moment, lying on my bed, on Christmas Eve, I chose faith, I chose to believe, I chose wonder. I would not let the world steal it from me.
You may ask, “Yeah, but what about the whole Santa thing?” That night I realized Santa was more real than he had ever been before. He was more than just a fat, jolly old elf who rides the night skies delivering presents on Christmas Eve. He was a frame of mind. He represented sacrifice, saving, giving, joy, selflessness, and yes, even wonder. To this day, my mother or father have still never said anything to me about the reality (or not) of Santa. They’ve always just said, “I believe.” That’s enough for me. That Christmas Eve, I was not mad at them. I was just grateful…for every Christmas Eve I had ever had as a child…every sacrifice, every saved penny, every magical moment.
But more than any of that, this is what happened on that Christmas Eve in 1984. I realized just how inconsequential Santa was to the whole Christmas story. Sure, he’s one small part of all the joy around it, and I’m thankful for that. But Santa isn’t the center of the story. The truth of the Savior is the center of the story, and that is anything but fantasy, that is eternal truth. That night, in choosing wonder, I knew I was choosing a faithful disposition of joy and wonder, both for what is and what is to come. I was choosing to rise above disappointment. I was choosing to be faithful in the midst of the stark reality of difficulty. I was choosing to see things that I couldn’t see with my naked eye. And for the first time, I think I fully understood the pronouncement of the angel in Luke 2, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord is born today in Bethlehem.”
That wasn’t a statement measuring the current conditions of the time. It was a pronouncement of hope that is here and is still to come. It was a pronouncement that all of this is going somewhere. There will always be difficulty. There will be always be struggle in this broken world. There will always be intersections filled with cold, hard realities. But at every intersection, there is a choice. The choice will determine how vividly you see and hear the melody of this temporary life that leads to glory for those who have faith in Christ.
In the Bible, James 1:2-3 says, “…when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
That Christmas Eve in 1984, troubles came my way, and I stood at the intersection of “opportunity for joy,” and I chose joy. Of all things…Santa was the catalyst. Who knew? Since that night, troubles much bigger than that crisis of belief have invaded my life. And I’m still choosing the Lord’s opportunities for joy, in the midst of the difficulty. So, as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, “These troubles will produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever…so we fix our eyes on things that cannot be seen.” That’s choosing faith, that’s choosing wonder, that’s choosing joy. Because it’s some of those things you can’t see yet, that will end up being the most real things. So choose joy, no matter how difficult it may be, choose it! Bring on the wonder, and let it swallow up the disappointment of 2020.