I worked in a restaurant in a local mall for many years. As you can imagine, I have lots of great stories from that job, but my favorite story happened one Christmas about 25 years ago. One of the waitresses was a local college student who had started with us over the summer. In September, her father was transferred to Colorado and the whole family moved with him. All except for Marianne. She was enrolled in a local college and working at the restaurant so she moved in with a family friend and waved her parents, brother and sisters good-bye as they boarded a plane for Denver. She worked hard both at school and at her job. She always had a melancholy air about her and talked constantly of taking a plane to visit her family over Christmas break. As the holidays approached, she tried to book a flight home. She could only leave on either the 23rd or 24th as she had exams and then wanted to work as many shifts as possible while the restaurant was still busy and people were in a generous tipping mood. Mare (as we called her) knew that by January, customers would not tip as well as they would before Christmas and she would still have books to buy for the spring semester. Unfortunately, all the flights were booked and she was put on stand-by. She was not given much hope since flights to Denver can fill up a year in advance with all those Christmas ski vacation packages that are offered.
When she came to work that evening after calling the airlines, she looked so sad. Mare continued to the back of the restaurant to hang up her coat and check in. It was only 5pm, but mall employees would be coming in for their dinner break. Our first customer was the mall Santa. He just wanted a quick sandwich (nothing that would make a mess in his beard as he wasn’t allowed to be out of costume as long as he was inside the mall). The hostess led him to a table in Mare’s station. “Santa should bring a smile to her face”, she said as she winked at me. As Mare tied her apron on, the hostess told her she had a special customer waiting for her. Within a few minutes, Mare returned to the serving area with an incredulous look on her face. “The guy is nuts!” she whispered to me. “He really thinks he is Santa. He told me that I would get home for Christmas if I just believe. I hope she doesn’t seat him in my station again, he’s kinda creepy.”
Santa came in a few times a week for dinner right up until Christmas Eve. If Mare was working, he would smile at her and ask if a flight had opened up yet. She would shake her head but Santa would only smile and say, “you’ll be home for Christmas, I promise.” Talk about staying in character!
Each time I saw Mare I would ask her if she had gotten a ticket home. Each time she would answer, “no”, with tears close to her eyes. We all invited her to our family gatherings to let her know that she wouldn’t be alone, but it was no use. The kid just wanted to be with her family for Christmas.
December 23rd – Mare bounded through the restaurant doors with a huge smile on her face gave everyone a hug. It turns out that there had been one cancellation and a ticket was available for the next afternoon! She would be sipping eggnog with her parents within 24 hours. As she turned around, there was Santa standing in the doorway, waiting for a table to eat his early dinner. When he saw her smiling, he laughed a big Santa laugh and said, “Just like I promised! Always believe!” I’ve never looked at a mall Santa the same again even after all these years.
It was easy to believe in Santa as a kid. It’s such a great story of a kind old gentleman who brings presents and Christmas joy. Yet, so many don’t want to believe in the original Christmas story of a kind God who brings us the present of His own Son and the joy of salvation. Why is one story harder to swallow than the other? Is childlike faith something that is reserved for childhood only?
I think of Mary, who was given an impossible job by an impossible visitor – and she
believed with a childlike faith
I think of Joseph, who was told to marry the girl and raise a child who was not his own – and he believed with a childlike faith.
Imagine the shepherds blinded by the glory of God, a sight that must have terrified them – and they believed with a childlike faith.
The Magi who found the signs that they had sought for generations – and they believed with a childlike faith.
Churches all around the world will this month be celebrating the incredible story of a baby who would pave a way that all may choose to follow. If you listen, you will hear the story of a God who reached down through eternity to lift us up in His hands.
“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”
I remember peeking out my bedroom window on Christmas eve to see if any reindeer had landed in my front yard. I fully expected to see them! I also remember scanning the night sky hoping to see a star brighter than any other. I believed then. As I look back, I can see that to believe in the impossible is not just a Christmas story but a Christian story and sometimes it can be understandably hard to accept it all. Yet, just today I spoke with a friend who has been fighting with God all his life. I have been praying for him, praying that he would experience the peace that comes with surrender to God. Today he told me that he had surrendered his life to God and has never been happier. It has been a hard battle for him but it is not over. We all fight some degree of this battle every day.
“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”
It is not an uncommon thing to struggle with belief. This Christmas, as we struggle with the difficult circumstances in our lives that make the road ahead look impossible, think of Mary’s faith, Joseph’s obedience and the awe of shepherds and magi. They made a choice to believe and let that choice steer their lives from that day forth.