Once while stationed at a shore command, we arranged for Santa to visit during a children’s Christmas party. Santa was a six foot tall, broad shouldered elderly gentleman with a real white beard that went down past his shoulders. Santa was in great shape, except for his knees. (He had knee surgery recently, and we worried about his knees holding up between getting to the chapel hall and kids bouncing on them.) The fire department would bring him to the chapel with bells ringing, lights flashing. If they stopped at the right place, he wouldn’t have to maneuver the deep road-side ditches, but simply get off at the driveway. (Unfortunately, they missed it by a few feet, and he had to go through the ditch.) As we approached the time for Santa to arrive, over thirty children had gathered, plus adults. The noise level was high, and they were very, very energized for the visit.

All I could picture was Santa getting mugged. The kids would swarm, his knees would give out, and we would have a public relations disaster, as well as a hospitalized Santa.

Santa arrived in high style, made it over the ditch with no obvious problem. Instead of swarming, the kids went silent, staying at a distance. Santa looked surprised, but went with me to the fellowship area and sat on the large decorated chair we had set up. The kids followed, but still stayed at a distance once inside. Not a single child would approach, even with Santa encouraging and smiling. Finally a Marine dad strode forward, his son reluctantly following. Dad did a semi-squat over Santa’s legs, not quite sitting, but faking it well. He told Santa what he would like for Christmas, and Santa beamed. His son then followed, making sure dad stayed nearby. After stalling tongue-tied on Santa’s lap, he finally talked. Santa listened gravely, and responded appropriately.

Having witnessed that it was safe, the other kids came forward. They did not swarm, but took it all extremely seriously. (For a party, it was very sober.) Only after all had talked to Santa and survived did the energy and noise levels return.

Afterwards, I tried to figure it out. Final conclusion: this Santa was too real. Other Santas were men is costumes. This guy was different. They came to see Santa, but had not anticipated meeting reality.

I wonder how many of us are like those kids? What would be our reaction to a direct, indisputable encounter with God? I once met a woman who had been miraculously healed. Consequently she stopped attending church. When I asked why, she told me about her fear. God was now too real. It frightened her.

Think the angel appearing to Mary, or the many to the shepherds. Think wise men from the east appearing bearing gifts. How did they, how do we, handle Reality intruding into our reality? We pray: what are we expecting? We worship – what would be our reaction if we had what is termed a “religious experience”? It is worth considering, pondering. Would we turn from God or stand at a safe distance away if it all became too real?