He Knows if You’ve Been Bad or Good?
As a kid I can still remember my parents and grandparents yelling out the phrase, “If you don’t behave Santa won’t bring you any presents on Christmas.” In fact, I just recently heard that phrase being harshly whispered in the grocery store as a frantic mother dragged off a young boy who had just torn open a candy bar and taken a big bight in the middle of the aisle. What does this kind of statement and ideology teach children? There are a few things that come to mind. The first is that Santa is a real person who has the ability to judge others for their moral wrongs. But the truth of the matter is that only God has that capability.
“It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall.” (Psalm 75:7, NLT)
So when that is said to a child doesn’t that communicate that Santa is, on some level, a god? Maybe. At the very least it taught us as kids that Santa was a real and powerful figure, but when we got onto the playground in 3rd grade we quickly found out that Santa Clause was just some made up character that parents used to manipulate us kids to be good little children. What happens then when these same 3rd graders get into Sunday school and they are being taught about a God who judges the living and the dead? Kids are left to conclude that God must also be some parental ploy to coerce them into following the rules. But nothing could be further from the truth. If we teach the myth of Santa as reality we inadvertently teach the reality of God as mythology.
Naughty or Nice?
The second thing that happens as a result of this cultural creation is that it teaches children that achieving righteousness comes from obeying the rules. But the Bible describes attaining right standing with God in a radically different way.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)
If we are constantly teaching children that being good is the answer to finding happiness and ultimately being right with God, then we are subtly promoting legalism while denying the unearned grace that can only be found in the gospel. The truly amazing thing is that God is not like Santa Clause. Despite the fact that we were on the “naughty list,” God didn’t bring us a lump of coal, instead he brought us an amazing gift. That gift was Jesus Christ, God himself, who not only humbled himself to live a human life being born as a baby, but also by living the only truly righteous life that he ultimately offered as a sacrifice.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, ESV)
Jesus is the true hero of Christmas, not Santa, and He doesn’t require that we attain some standard of good behavior in order to receive reward. Jesus only asks that we humbly accept the free gift of salvation by faith alone.
Old St. Nick
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we should take all of our Santa sweaters, our copy of Elf the movie, or those fuzzy Chris Cringle ornaments and burn them in effigy in the backyard. As long as we keep Santa securely in the cultural myth category and don’t confuse him with the actual reason for the season than the Christmas Holiday will remain a worshipful and humbling time. In truth Saint Nick is no different than anyone else; he celebrated the birth of Christ by being generous and giving gifts to the poor, and in return a legend was birthed from his acts of worship. That is the best characterization that we could give about Santa Clause. That sentiment reminds us that we give gifts because it was God who first gave the ultimate gift to us.