The Elf Who Saved Christmas

Santa needs to pick up some speed. How will he do it? A wise, old elf finds the radical solution.

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SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT

The Elf Who Saved Christmas

Today we mark the Second Sunday of Advent, the season of our preparation for Christmas. In other parts of the world, the celebration of Christmas begins tomorrow with the Feast of St. Nicholas. When people from Holland brought their devotion to “Sinter Klaas” to this country, he became Santa Claus.

So, today, I would like to tell a Santa Claus story. It comes from Edward Hays, and it is called, “The Elf who saved Christmas.”

At the end of a long Christmas Day, many years ago, a tired and frustrated Santa Claus finally returned from his annual gift-giving journey around the globe. As the elves helped him remove the harnesses from his weary reindeer, he said, “Little friends, we must do something! Each year my trip takes longer and longer. More and more children are disappointed each year because I arrive late at their homes. The reindeer do their very best, I can assure you, and so does my wonderful sleigh!”

And a wonderful sleigh it was! It had been given to Santa Claus by its original owner, Czar Nicholas I of Russia . The imperial sleigh was painted in bright red and rich yellows and there were hand-carved decorations covered with real gold. On the sides of the sleigh were pictures of Saint Nicholas, of Mary and the Child, and of other saints as well. They all had real gold halos and precious gems sparkled from their clothing. So wondrous was this sleigh that those who managed to catch a glimpse of it were spellbound by its beauty.

When Santa first started to make his trips around the world, the sleigh pulled by reindeer, raced like lightening across the sky. In those days there were fewer people on earth and the sleigh wasn’t so full of presents. But then the population of the world grew and spread to more parts of the earth. Now it was packed to overflowing, laden with presents of every kind. Because of all the weight, the sleigh moved slower and slower. Each year it took longer and longer to make the trip. Each year Santa returned later and later on Christmas Day. Each year more and more children were disappointed that Santa Claus was late.

So, after Santa had had some time to rest, he called a community meeting of everyone who worked at the North Pole. They met in the great barn next to his house. Santa stood in his great sleigh with Mrs. Santa next to him. All the elves gathered around.

“My friends,” he said. “We must find a new way to visit all the homes on earth in one night.”

One elf spoke up. “You could get a jet plane. That would be faster.” At this suggestion, the reindeer snorted their disapproval and a groan rose up from the older elves.

Mrs. Claus spoke, “Yes, an airplane would be faster, but Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the magnificent sleigh and beautiful reindeer.”

“I agree,” said Santa. “It wouldn’t be the same. But we have to be open to new things. That may be something we’ll have to consider. Are there any other suggestions?”

The meeting went on all morning. Many did speak, sharing ideas and concerns, hopes and dreams.

At last Santa said, “Thank you all. It’s nearly lunchtime, so let’s conclude for now. We have nearly an entire year and I think, if we work together, we can come up with a solution.”

As Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the whole crowd of elves left the barn, one old elf with a long white beard remained. Because he had anticipated the reason for the meeting, he had brought along plans to address the problem. He listened carefully to what everyone else had said, but he could not muster up enough courage himself to speak.

The old elf wore a long, green coat with large, deep pockets. These pockets had once been filled with presents. You see, he was the Birthday Elf from Germany . He delivered birthday gifts to children and, at one time, he was as well known as Santa himself. But with the passage of time, he had gotten older and had slowly become forgotten. Now he was retired. He lived in the Old Elf Home behind Santa’s house.

The old elf spoke to the magnificent sleigh, “I hope that what has been my fate doesn’t also become yours.”

The sleigh only laughed. “That’s impossible! I bring such joy to people. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without me!”

But the elf said, “I wouldn’t be so sure. I never thought I’d be forgotten, but look at me now. It could happen to you.”

Touched by the old elf, the great sleigh said, “Birthday Elf, once upon a time, you worked your magic to bring gifts to children on their birthdays. I believe you still may have magic left in you. Would you show me your plans?”

And so the elf unrolled the scroll. He had drawn a picture of the sleigh as it was, but with a set of four wheels attached to the runners. The wheels, he explained, would help the sleigh land and take off much more quickly and would be much more suited to places without snow.

The sleigh shouted, “That’s wonderful, Birthday Elf! That’s the solution to our problem. Show your drawing to Santa and see what he thinks.”

So, the elf did. Santa looked carefully at the drawing. When he looked up he said, “This is a good idea. It would help to save time, but I don’t think it would help enough. I’m afraid we need a more radical solution.”

The old elf went back to work. He was determined to come up with a better plan. Weeks and months slipped by. On Midsummer’s Eve, while everyone else was out celebrating and feasting, he went to the barn to visit the sleigh. With reindeer looking on, he unrolled another large scroll. “This is my best idea yet. It is to convert you into a magnificent flying sleigh!” And, indeed, what at first looked very strange to them now began to appear was a sleigh with a network of gears and pulleys all operating a shaft that turned two large propellers in the middle of the sleigh.

“That’s marvelous!” said the sleigh. “Take it to Santa right away.”

And so the elf did. He pulled Santa aside during the partying and showed him the drawing. Santa expressed concern that all the machinery would not leave enough room for gifts, but he said, “I think it will work. Let’s give it a try.”

So the elf engineers began work the very next morning. They worked day and night, in fact, until it was ready in mid-September. There was great excitement as the flying sleigh was rolled out onto the runway. Santa climbed in and started the propellers. The reindeer raced down the runway. The sleigh took off into the air. Everyone cheered. But almost as soon as it began to gain altitude, it began to lose altitude. As it came back down to earth, everyone groaned.

When Santa climbed out of the sleigh, he said, “I had hoped it would work, but we’re still just too heavy. I guess we need a still more radical solution, and we only have a few months left.”

The old elf was very discouraged. “I don’t understand,” he said to the sleigh. “I’m sure my calculations were right. I guess I just need some time to think,” and went off by himself to his own room.

On Thanksgiving night, the Birthday Elf entered the darkened barn carrying a single lantern and an old book. He sat down on an old wooden bucket next to the sleigh.

The wondrous – but now very worried – sleigh asked him, “Have you brought me the gift that I desire most?”

“Well, that depends,” the elf began. “It depends on you. You see, I’ve spent many sleepless nights wondering what went wrong with my last idea. I’ve also thought about Santa’s words – about how we need a radical solution. I believe I’ve found a radical solution in this book.”

It was Santa’s Bible. He opened it and read a passage from Second Corinthians:

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, so that by his poverty, you might become rich. (8:9)

“I don’t understand,” the sleigh said. “What does that have to do with me?”

“The answer is hidden in that single sentence,” the elf replied. “You must discover it for yourself, otherwise it won’t be the answer. Great problems are solved only by radical answers – and no one likes to think radical ideas!

He laid the Bible down next to the sleigh. “Good night and good luck!” he said as he walked out into the snow, leaving the magnificent sleigh alone in the great barn. As the North Wind continued to blow, rattling the rafters, the sleigh repeated the sentence over and over again.

On December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, the sun was shining brightly and the snow made the ground look like it was covered with precious crystals. Led by the Birthday Elf, all the elves processed to Santa’s front door, singing, “Happy Birthday!”

When Santa and Mrs. Claus came to the front door, the Birthday Elf said, “Santa, come us to the great barn for the best of all birthday gifts!”

With great excitement, they led Santa to the doors of the barn. There the elf stopped and said, “A surprise awaits you! Be prepared!” He swung the doors of the barn open. There in the middle of the barn floor sat the sleigh – or was it?

The sleigh was no longer covered with gold and gems and sacred paintings. It was stripped, plain, and covered in a drab green.

A gasp of horror arose among the elves. Santa cried out, “What’s happened? What’s happened to my magnificent sleigh?”

“I did it myself, Santa,” the sleigh said. “Now I’m ready to fly anywhere in the world, faster than ever. I realized it was my pride at being the most splendid sleigh in the world that was weighing us down. I had to become poor in order to carry you and your gifts.”

So, on that birthday feast, there was another test flight. This time, Santa, the sleigh and all the reindeer took off quickly and streaked into the sky. They circled the North Pole time and again with Mrs. Claus and all the elves cheering.

On the outside the once magnificent sleigh was plain and drab, but on the inside, he had never known such joy.

Santa, too, was beaming. He shouted the words of the elf, “Great problems are solved only by radical answers!”

So it was that year at Christmas – and so it is every year – at Christmas!