Friday, December 9
The hands of the enormous clock hanging from the mall's vaulted ceiling were stuck. At least it seemed that way to Joel - he could swear they hadn't moved since he'd last checked the time. It was 2:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, and the fake white beard he'd been wearing since that morning was really beginning to itch. He'd love to take a break, but the line of children waiting to see him was growing longer by the minute. Christmas was a week away, and everyone had a wish list to share with Kris Kringle.
Joel had never imagined he would one day work as a mall Santa Claus. But he'd also never imagined losing his job and being unable to find another suitable one. The nation's economic crisis had just seemed like a problem for the politicians and stockholders until the day his boss appeared in his office door with an empty box and bad news. The company was downsizing; it wasn't personal, but he had to go. Or something like that - Joel couldn't remember the exact words. He just knew he was expected to fill that box with his office belongings and walk out the door into a very uncertain situation.
Joel was a hard worker and at first felt optimistic about his job prospects. But as the jobless weeks turned to months, his concern grew as his options seemed to narrow. That's when he saw an ad for a job as a mall Santa Claus. It wasn't the job he wanted, but it was employment and would help him pare down the growing pile of bills - at least temporarily.
Since he began putting on the red suit the week after Thanksgiving, he'd been hugged on, cried on, peed on, and tugged on. The children's requests mostly sounded the same, blending together day after day, but he smiled and patted them all on the back and wished them a Merry Christmas. All the while though, the fact that he faced a jobless January gnawed at him.
"Okay, Santa Claus, are you ready?" chirped an overly enthusiastic elf as she ushered another child his way. The little girl was dressed in a green and red plaid jumper, her brown ringlets brushing the top of a white collar. In her hand, she clutched a wrinkled piece of paper. A list, Joel assumed.
He pulled the little girl into his lap. "Hello there, little girl," said Joel, in his best, deepest Santa Claus voice. "Have you been a good girl this year?"
She nodded her head yes.
"What would you like for Christmas?"
"A pony," she whispered.
"Ho! Ho! Ho!" Joel laughed. "Let's smile for a picture!"
The shutter clicked and Joel slid the girl off his knee. She turned and stuck out her arm, offering him the white paper.
"I made this for you today in Sunday School," she said in a rush before dropping the paper in his lap and scurrying back toward her waiting mother.
"Oh!" said Joel, surprised. "Thanks. And Merry Christmas!" He stuck the paper in his pocket.
Hours later, Joel finally pulled the scratchy beard from his face and hung up his red suit in the mall office. He'd forgotten about the little girl's gift until he saw it peeking over the top of the jacket pocket. Joel retrieved the paper and opened it to find a coloring page. The little girl had used crayons to fill in the image of baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary and Joseph. The words of a Bible verse were printed at the bottom of the page.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
As Joel drove home that night, the words of the Bible verse kept running through his head. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us..." As a regular churchgoer, Joel was familiar with the passage, but hadn't given the words much thought. But they suddenly seemed quite powerful.
Since he'd lost his job, friends had been kind - offering advice and encouragement, even passing along his resume. But ultimately the struggle was his alone. Or at least it had seemed that way.
But the Bible verse had reminded him of something. He believed in a God that also knew what it felt like to struggle as a human. Jesus had truly known great suffering, and his willingness to walk with us on earth despite that suffering was an amazing gift of love.
Joel felt his spirits begin to lift. His job worries were far from over, and tomorrow he'd be back in the itchy beard again. But he was not alone. His God was a God of understanding and a God of love, and a God with a plan for his life. Thanks be to God for these good gifts.
- Ginger Heidel