Are we willing to take a break from our own happiness to minister to broken people, even during the holiday season?
One man did.
His name is Eric Schmitt-Matzen, and chances are you might have caught a bit of his story.
His tale happened several weeks ago, when a terminally ill young boy was nearing the end of his battle. This little 5-year-old knew he was going to miss Christmas. And he wanted to see Santa Claus.
That’s where Schmitt-Matzen, who works as a professional Santa Claus, enters the story.
Schmitt-Matzen is as authentic as they come. He’s 6 feet tall, 310 pounds, and has a full, snowy-white beard. He’s also good at what he does, working about 80 jobs a year playing Kris Kringle.
But when the call came from the nurse for Schmitt-Matzen to rush to the hospital, he knew this wouldn’t be like all the other gigs. He knew there would be pain involved.
Truth be told, most of us would understand if Schmitt-Matzen had decided this visit would hurt too much. After all, whose heart can bear seeing a little boy as he struggled with the illness that would soon take his life?
But Schmitt-Matzen didn’t think about the heartbreak he’d experience – only the help he could bring. He thought about showing love to a little boy whose life revolved around medical procedures and hospital beds, and whose heart yearned for a little bit of joy.
And, so… Schmitt-Matzen went.
He went despite having just come home after a full day at work at his other job as president of a company. He went even though he didn’t even have time to don his custom-tailored red suit, just the Santa suspenders he always wore.
Once Schmitt-Matzen arrived at the intensive care unit, he saw a heart-breaking scene. Family members were crying. The boy’s earthly end was imminent.
But in he went as Jolly Old St. Nick, giving the child a present the boy’s mother had purchased. Schmitt-Matzen tried his best to give the boy some comfort and cheer.
And as Schmitt-Matzen hugged the little boy, the child died.
The impact those moments had on Schmitt-Matzen were immense. He literally ran out of the boy’s room, crying. For a few days, the former Army Ranger who had seen his share of bad things even considered quitting his job of playing Santa Claus. How could he go on after what he experienced?
Pain and hardship can sometimes be the price of sacrificing for others, of placing their well-being ahead of your own.
I’m thankful Schmitt-Matzen was willing to pay the price of helping, and that he put the boy’s needs above any idealization of what Christmas is “supposed” to be like.
One reason why I’m thankful is because, as Christians, we know better than to think the season is all about joy and sanitized happiness.
Christmas can be messy.
As my colleague Paul Batura points out in his book, Chosen for Greatness: How Adoption Changes the World:
Indeed, all might have been “calm” and “bright” on the night of Jesus’ birth – but it wasn’t long before the tranquil scene of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus neatly tucked in together on a cold winter’s night nearly turned tragic.
Just picture a blood-thirsty king and his henchman in desperate search of a baby and his family – all with the expressed intent to murder the newborn as soon as they locate him. His mother and father bundle him up in blankets, perhaps even hiding the very child who represents “the hopes and fears of all the years” in a basket or a bucket as they frantically make their exit for a foreign land.
It’s hardly a charming and glamorous story.
In fact, it’s the personification of dysfunction.
It’s mystery, mayhem, and chaos all wrapped up in one.
In other words, the first Christmas is a lot like everyday life in this fallen world.
I would encourage you to be open to the divine opportunities God may be giving you to minister to and help others this Christmas. I think you’ll find that it’s better to give than to receive.
Do you have a story of helping – or being helped – at Christmas? I’d love to read it. What did the kindness mean to you? Please share your story in the comments section, below.
Second note (Dec. 15): Tennessee’s WBIR says it has independently verified the story. Please keep the family who lost that precious little boy in your prayers this Christmas season.
Note (Dec. 14): While this original story was reported by multiple outlets, today’s Washington Post released an article late today that not all the details can be verified. We’ll continue to monitor the news.