Plunging into a parking space at the Grand Plaza shopping center, I brushed fenders with a faded sedan and recognized Pastor Peterson inside. He was waiting for his wife, and cleared the front seat of packages so that I could join him.

“Christmas shopping?”

He winced and suddenly thrust an envelope in my hand. In the growing dusk I read the penciled lines:

Hark, the tinsel fairies sing,

Santa Claus will come to bring

Lighted trees with presents piled,

Rocket ships for every child.

Gleeful all the space kids rise,

Join the sputniks in the skies

With the missile men exclaim,

‘Christmas sure was getting tame!’ ”

It was my turn to wince. Pastor Peterson not only admitted to writing it, but insisted that he was about to prepare a “realistic” Christmas program, including a litany to Santa Claus, and with Jingle Bells for an offertory.

Why was he so bitter? It began when his children wanted to miss the Thanksgiving service to see Santa arrive at the Plaza in a space satellite. He was further depressed by the mixture of syrupy “White Christmas” music and syncopated carols blaring from the Plaza audio system. Then he had passed a bargain table crowded with plastic figurines: Santa Claus, Bambi, Flower, Rudolf, the Holy Family, and a few shepherds.

“What good will it do to put Christ back into Christmas?” he demanded. “That’s precisely the trouble. Christ is buried in Christmas. The nativity is only a Christmas fable, the least interesting one, since it is Santa who pays off. We need to get Christ out of Christmas. We need Christ to save us from our Christmas Christianity!”

The parking lot speakers boomed,

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,

Hail the Incarnate Deity …

Perhaps somewhere in the crowd someone heard the words, Pastor!


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