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Intersection of Life and Faith

The Secret Santa's Key to Joy

  • Dave Burchett Contributor
  • 2006 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
The Secret Santa's Key to Joy

Money is an uncomfortable topic for followers of Jesus. One anonymous writer noted that a lot of people are willing to give God the credit, but not too many are willing to give Him the cash.

Twenty-six years ago a man in Kansas City made a choice to give away the cash. It was a choice that changed his life and the lives of thousands more. The Associated Press reported that for the next 26 years, a man known only as Secret Santa roamed the streets every December quietly giving people money. He started with $5 and $10 bills. As his fortune grew, so did the gifts. In recent years, Secret Santa has been handing out $100 bills, sometimes two or three at a time, to people in thrift stores, diners and parking lots. So far, he's anonymously given out about $1.3 million. It's been a long-held holiday mystery: Who is Secret Santa? But now, weak from chemotherapy and armed with a desire to pass on his belief in random kindness, Secret Santa has decided it's time to reveal his identity.

He is Larry Stewart, a 58-year-old businessman from the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, Mo., who made his millions in cable television and long-distance telephone service. While Stewart has also given money to other community causes in Kansas City and his hometown of Bruce, Miss., he offers the simple gifts of cash because it's something people don't have to "beg for, get in line for, or apply for."

His epiphany happened just before Christmas in 1979. His circumstances were dire. For the second year in a row he had been fired just days before Christmas. He admits that he was wallowing in self-pity when he learned that giving returned an inexplicable joy. That simple discovery changed him, the entire city of Kansas City, and beyond. Let's pick up the story as Stewart was nursing his wounds at a drive-in restaurant after getting fired once again. He describes that December day in his own words.

"It was cold and this car hop didn't have on a very big jacket, and I thought to myself, `I think I got it bad. She's out there in this cold making nickels and dimes,"' he said. He gave her $20 and told her to keep the change. "And suddenly I saw her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks. She said, `Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.'"

Larry Steward was deeply touched. He decided to go to the bank that day and took out $200, then drove around looking for people who could use a lift. That was his "Christmas present to himself." He's hit the streets each December since. Now, his mission is bigger than handing out $100 bills. Stewart wants to speak to community groups about his devotion to kindness and to inspire others to donate their time and money. "That's what we're here for," Stewart says, "to help other people out."

Larry Stewart has learned the reality of money and possessions that was eloquently expressed by author Thomas Fuller: "Riches enlarge rather than satisfy appetites."

As a follower of Christ I think Stewart has it half right when he notes that we are here to help other people out. The religious scholars asked Jesus what a purpose driven life should look like.

"Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?"

Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them." Matthew 22 The Message

During this Christmas season I am challenging you to join me in trying Larry Stewart's experiment. Go buy yourself a gadget or outfit or bauble. Note the reading on the joy meter. Then go give money to a desperate Mom trying to make ends meet. Or give some cash to an elderly couple who can't pay the heating bill. Deliver a Christmas gift to children who would not receive gifts any other way. Then see which action has given you real joy. Was it acquiring more stuff or meeting real needs in the lives of others? Larry Stewart has learned that lesson. And the world is a better place because of the revelation he experienced on a cold December day twenty-six years ago.

Pray about what you can give this Christmas. Remember that Larry Stewart started small. I pray that you will receive the kind of joy that has driven the Kansas City Secret Santa for twenty-six years. The chance to witness the surprised joy of a person receiving an unexpected and much needed gift. Kind of like salvation, isn't it?That is the gift that Jesus brought to Bethlehem two millenia ago. And that is another gift we should be eager to share this season.


Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through  daveburchett.com