At this Christmas season we at All Saints Church would like to remember our brother Jack Walp who has this year gone home to be with the Lord. In the past, Jack has been a valued contributer to our Advent Devotionals, and below is a reprinting of one of his works.
Christmas was a big deal in my non-Anglican, Calvinistic childhood. We were Presbyterian, so “Advent” was some sort of a season, but Christmas was the important thing, and, in my family, we celebrated Christmas from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
The house was decorated inside and out; lights, leafs of holly, wreaths of green and crinkling wrapping were my earliest memories, as well as the annual expedition to seek out the perfect Christmas tree. Early on was the making of the fruitcake… lots of fruitcake–baked in November, wrapped in rum soaked towels and put away to season for a month, finally to be sliced on Christmas Day.
We had a life-sized figure of Santa Claus too, a cardboard cutout, gleaned from a department store display. He was seated in a chair, beaming broadly, a pipe ready to be stuck in his droll mouth. Each year a photo was taken, me beside Santa, smiling as if I had just been admitted into the “Secret Society of the Young Friends of Santa Claus,” and given a code word no other kid on my block would know. Then, the year came that I was taller than the cardboard Santa, and the photos stopped!
We sang carols, played a special collection of 78s, and heard the story of the trip to Bethlehem, the shepherds the wise men and the creatures gathered round. On Christmas day we gathered round Santa and that perfect tree, to exchange presents, wonderful gifts to be opened one at a time. There was a sense of delicious expectation to Christmas morning, when opening presents lasted till noon.
But, there was a problem. In my very young mind there was rampant confusion; I couldn’t separate Santa and God. What did Santa have to do with the Christ child, let alone with God? And where exactly did he fit into the Christmas story, the one about the star the shepherds, the stable and the wise men? It was all very puzzling, and for a long time Christmas, or Advent, was a pair of parallel paths, never meeting. Santa on one and the Christ child on the other. With maturity this conflict resolved itself. But in today’s world, the one that glorifies Santa and marginalizes the baby Jesus, I sometimes wonder if I was not the only one to be confused by this dichotomy.