Scholars Unearth Joseph’s Letter to Santa

The unexpected and unwanted qualities of the first Christmas

After publishing the contents of the letter written to Santa by St. Joseph, father of Jesus Christ, the head of the research team remarked, “I suppose there’s nothing too surprising in there once you stop and think about it. I just don’t know that I’d ever stopped and thought about it before.”

See for yourself in this reconstruction of the original manuscript:

One of the graduate students working on the project dryly remarked, “Seems like he went 0 for 4 that Christmas.” Instead of the things on his list, Joseph actually received a wife giving birth to someone else’s baby and the opportunity to be a refugee in Egypt for several years.

The gift of the Messiah, the Savior, in the person of Jesus wasn’t really what anyone expected.

Joseph surely didn’t anticipate it.

No doubt Mary admirably agreed to play her role in God’s plan, but if, on the day before Gabriel came, she’d been interviewed her about her wants and expectations for life, surely none of the Christmas story events would have been on her list (to say nothing of the witnessing her son’s rejection and execution that would come later).

The wise men probably didn’t saddle their camels and head off to see the great king expecting to end up on their knees in a barn.

And the bulk of the people of Israel, particularly the leaders, neither expected nor wanted the sort of Messiah Jesus turned out to be. They really wanted a Messiah who would make a list, check it twice, figure out who was naughty and who was nice, and then deal with everyone appropriately. They wanted Santa Claus.

None of this is captured in the collection of little books we have at our house with titles like The Christmas Story or The Story of Christmas or Christmas in a Manger. These are short little works, with pictures of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus and the shepherds and the animals and the manger. They’re children’s Christmas pageants distilled into board books. And they have a really simple point, “We give gifts to one another at Christmas because God gave us the greatest gift in sending Jesus.”

Ok. But getting a kid a shiny new bike they really want and are expecting is actually not at all like God getting us a shiny new savior. Sending Christ at Christmas was not God playing Santa Claus. It a much better gift, but also a much different sort of gift, than anything Santa could ever bring.

Somehow we’ve taken a holiday on which we celebrate God doing something that nobody expected and no one at the time thought they wanted, and which caused many unwanted and difficult things to happen in their lives, and turned it into a grand exercise of wish fulfillment.

It’s a powerful reminder that it is risky to depend on the fulfillment of our own expectations and wants for our happiness this season. You know what tends to happen: between family members, UPS, germs, shopping, and stress, there’s a decent chance your expectations and wants are going to be disappointed.

But even if everything goes wrong this season— even if you get to the hotel on your Christmas vacation only to find they’ve given your room away (which would actually be very Christmasy)— Christ can still come to you at Christmas. He can still come because meeting our expectations and fulfilling our wants is not actually at the heart of Christmas. Christmas is not about making people happy. It’s about the salvation of our damned souls.

When we remember that the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth is far different from the experience we have of Christmas gifts — when we remember that Santa wasn’t actually in the stable that evening, nor was the manger tucked beneath the boughs of a Christmas tree — when we remember the unexpected and unwanted nature of Christ’s first coming, then maybe we can allow room for God to do something unexpected that we don’t even know we want in our lives.

How much of your life will you spend this season fulfilling your own and others’ expectations and wants? Will there be enough room for God to do anything you’re not planning on?

— Fr. Dad

St. Andrew’s Digitized Discipleship makes resources for Christian reflection, instruction, and growth available online. It is a ministry of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in McKinney, Texas.