They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.
You know the story, or the song. Poor Rudolph. He was born different from “all of the other reindeer.” His nose was so bright, one “could even say it glows.” And just because he was different, he was shunned (on a good day) or mocked (on one of the usual days). Reindeer, like children, can be cruel.
The picture above shows a little plastic Rudolph that can hang on the Christmas tree. When I was a child, I had one just like it. I can remember when the song came out, and how I loved to sing it. It comforted me with the story of the misfit (with whom I identified) who became popular (something I always yearned to be). When I sang the words, Then how the reindeer loved him, I would kind of choke up, imagining what that might feel like.
I rather suspect that the feeling of wanting to be loved by others is universal. At a certain point in one’s growing up, the love of parents is not enough. You want the esteem of your friends or colleagues, fellow students or fellow workers. It’s the human need to belong. To be accepted. To be included.
This is what the church is all about. Accepting others, without condition. Including everyone within the circle of the beloved of God. Church is the community of those who belong to God, because God has chosen them.
In the story of Rudolph, however, it takes a kind of miracle for Rudolph to be accepted at last. The foggy night comes, and Santa needs the beam of Rudolph’s nose to drive his sleigh so that he can distribute gifts to all the world’s children. It is the great reversal, that the one who had been kept outside is made the center; his defining characteristic, the red nose, has become Santa’s salvation. Do you hear echoes of the scripture about the stone that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone?
And yet. Does one need to have a special gift to be accepted? Rudolph was ostracized because of his red nose, but what if he had come from a poor stock of reindeer, or if his mother had died giving him birth and he was a poor orphan? Would he still have been accepted?
Do I have to have a special gift for God to accept me? If so, I think I personally am in trouble. Do I really believe that God loves even the ordinary ones? Like me?
But, wait! No one is ordinary. TV’s Mr. Rogers taught me that. Everyone is special. Everyone has a gift, everyone has something to offer that others can benefit by. Everyone has a gift to share that doesn’t come from the Internet or the store. Christmas is about sharing that gift, as Rudolph was willing to come to the aid of the Big Man in the Red Suit, and willing to join the other reindeer. Sure, as their leader. As the now Numero Uno reindeer.
The story of universal longing for acceptance has changed into a fantasy of being Queen (or Chief Reindeer) for a Day. Then all the reindeer loved him. Maybe. But don’t you think some of them might have been resentful? Maybe that’s the real surprise in the story: that when Santa called on Rudolph for help, the others were not jealous. They welcomed him and his gift. And Rudolph was forgiving. He was delighted (pun intended) to share his gift and help Santa.
Christmas is always about being surprised – Mary was certainly surprised by the angel Gabriel, the shepherds out there on the cold hills outside Bethlehem had their sandals blown off (in a manner of speaking) when the angel appeared to them. And, to bring it home to today, the gifts we share at Christmas are wrapped to disguise them so that when we open them, we’ll be surprised.
This year, entertain the notion that YOU are the gift the world needs. Share yourself. You just might surprise yourself.