The Unexpected Santa: An Advent Reflections of an Ontological Priest

St. Nicholas Day, 2017. 7:20 PM. The GPS announced, “In a quarter of a mile take a left on to Airport Road.” It was guiding me home from an unexpected engagement as Santa at the Community Health Center in Hartford, CT. For the past few years, I’ve been Santa at our Middletown site, and again I’ve grown out a fairly respectable Santa beard. I had the outfit ready, so when I got the message, “x-mas emergency. We lost our Santa. Can you come?” I quickly rearranged my schedule.

I called my wife to let her know the change of plans. My youngest daughter answered the phone. She was not doing well. She handed to phone over to her mother who informed me the two of them were headed back to the emergency room. We had been there just a couple days earlier, trying to get my daughter’s migraine, flu, and whatever else is going on, under control. My wife told me things would be okay and I should go ahead with being Santa.

They say that priests really only have three different messages and everyone sermon they deliver is one of those three messages. I’m not sure what the other two are for me, but the one I am most aware of is that God loves you, the way you are, right now, not as some nice concept or a phrase you tell someone to cheer them up or when you pass the peace. God’s love is real. It is palpable. It is right now, if we can only stop for a moment to hear it.

It is a message I try to deliver any chance I get, in any form I can. When I serve as Santa at the health center, I know that some of the kids I am hugging have not felt that love enough recently. Life is hard when ends don’t meet, for kids, for parents, for all of us. The gifts that some of the kids receive when they visit Santa, may be the only gift they receive all year. They need to hear the message of love in their language and setting.

There is a YouTube video I like to watch every year before I am Santa for these kids and their parents, Validation. It is about a parking attendant that validates more than parking tickets as he sets out on his own journey towards validation.

Those same people that say that priests really only have three different messages also say that they are messages that the priest needs to hear themselves. I am on my own journey towards more fully being aware of the love God has for me. It hasn’t been an easy journey, and I don’t expect it to get any easier any time soon.

As I drove up to Hartford, I prayed that just a little bit of God’s love would come through me on this very distracted day. Not only do I have my youngest daughter to worry about. I have a week left in my first term in seminary. I’ve got a couple big papers I need to finish up, and with each unexpected event, the time to work on my papers slips perilously away. I thought of the real St. Nicholas and I asked him to pray for me as well.

7:22 I hugged a lot of kids today and thought about my youngest daughter who needs extra hugs today as well. As soon as I get on the Interstate, I will call my wife for an update. The Bluetooth display in the car flashed. “Incoming call. Unknown Caller”. Typically in the mornings or evenings when I am on my way to work, or on my way home, when I get a message like that, it means that my eldest daughter is calling me via Skype from Japan.

She is just finishing up her master’s degree in Gender Studies and has applied for a fellowship to work on her doctorate there. We had hoped she would be coming home for Christmas. It has been too long since we saw her face to face. She had bought tickets to come home, but my wife lost her job and money and time is tight for all of us. So, when the airlines screwed up her flight, we all agreed that it was probably best for her to stay in Japan.

Tomorrow, she has the big interview for the fellowship; a four minute presentation followed by six minutes of questions. She gave me the four minute presentation, translated on the fly from Japanese. I’m not sure if there is an official title of her presentation, or if there is, what its translation to English would be. If I were writing a title for it, it would be something like, “Historical Research as Activism: Studying the Amateur Historical Research of Women’s Peace Groups in Japan in the 1980s”

We’ve been talking through her research ever since she headed off to Japan, so I had a pretty good idea of what the presentation was, even before she started. Last year, when I was Santa at the health center, I took a picture of me reading The Guattari Reader. Her classmates have been fascinated by the story of their American classmate’s father who dresses up as Santa and reads Deleuze and Guattari and has long discussions about Foucault and Fanon.

I was almost home when the discussion was interrupted by another phone call. My wife was calling to say that she and our youngest daughter were leaving the hospital and on their way home. There were no substantial changes and the various tests proved inconclusive.

I got home, ate a little bit, and went to bed. I’ve got about a week to go in the semester. I have various family concerns to address. I have another gig as Santa coming up. It is Advent. A time of waiting. In many ways, I’ve felt like I’ve been living in Advent for the past three years.

As I wait, as we all wait, I want to remind you that God does love you in a real, palpable way. I want to remind you, in the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “Patience wins all it seeks. Whoever has God lacks nothing: God alone is enough.” Likewise, as Julian of Norwich says, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Happy Advent, everyone.

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