He saw a world suffused with goodness; he loved it unreservedly; and he called forth the best in us. Though he came to live among us, his was a foreign provenance. He came unto his own, and they knew him not. And of course he walked the whole way — as he would often say — “first through the Candy Cane Forest, past the swirling, twirling Gumdrop Lake and into the Lincoln Tunnel.” His family called him Buddy; the world knows him as Elf.
Buddy sets out on his journey from the North Pole, because, like many a young person, he senses that, although he has emerged from this place, this family, he doesn’t fully belong. As an elf, his ability to produce Etch-a-Sketches is so poor that Buddy can’t help but ruefully to call himself “a cotton headed ninny muggins.” Consulting Papa Elf and Santa, he’s told to head south from the North Pole to a place called New York City “to find out who you are.”
Like so many before him, Buddy the Elf discovers that his identity lies within himself, not on the streets of some strange city. He can’t help but to get into fights with false Santas, to put maple syrup on everything, and to answer the phone, “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?” And when he meets someone he loves, he spontaneously suggests, “Let’s make a Ginger Bread House and eat cookie dough and go ice skating and maybe even hold hands. Or snuggle.” Buddy has left a home, but home is nestled deep within him.
Saint Luke records the only scene we possess from the boyhood of Christ, and he uses it to distinguish between the human milieu of Jesus and his divine origin. In our first glimpse of a conscious, interacting Christ, we see a young boy assuming the faith of his people, accepting his mission among us. He tells his parents, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49 )
The Fathers of the Church taught that Christ recapitulates in himself all that is good in the human experience, that in his humanity we see the exemplar of our own. And here’s a truth of what it means to be human. We come from families. We are incomprehensible apart from those origins, and yet each member of a family forges his or her own identity and destiny.
How much pain and sorrow do families self-inflict because they cannot fully embrace the unrepeatable difference that each child brings into the world? Buddy tells a little girl in a waiting room. “I’m an elf raised by humans.” With the acceptance that only a child, one as yet untouched by prejudice, can offer, she laconically replies, “I’m a human, raised by humans.”
For Saint Luke, to see only the family from which Christ emerges is to fail to notice the new start that the Spirit of God weaves. But Luke doesn’t disparage the family. Far from it. Christ is one of us. Indeed he cannot be comprehended apart from the constellation of family. “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” But the family must never fail to reverence the gift that God gives in the child, “and his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). In the human exemplar the Christ, in Buddy the Elf, in every child, God is doing something new. To welcome the child is to welcome the ever-creative Holy Spirit.
At one point, realizing that Santa is rendered ineffectual through lack of faith, Buddy asks him why he doesn’t openly manifest himself to mankind. Santa says, “The paparazzi have been trying to make me for years,” but “Christmas is about believing, not seeing.” Indeed it is. And a holy family life is about believing in what you see before you, in the gift that God has given.
Samuel 1: 20-22, 24-28 1 John 3: 1-2, 21-24 Luke 2: 41-52