The Gospel of Santa

It’s that time of year again. Time to put up the tree, hang the stockings, risk your life on the roof of your house trying to secure an inflatable snowman.

It’s Christmas time.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a bit of a Christmas honk. I start listening to Christmas music somewhere around mid-October. I consider myself a huge failure if I don’t have my tree up before Thanksgiving. Ever since I can remember, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I have great memories of Christmas day. Going to my grandparents house on Christmas eve and watching the weather report to see if they had ‘spotted Santa”. I remember waking up Christmas morning to find all the presents under the beautifully lit tree just waiting to be freed from their wrapping paper prisons. For me, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Now that I’m a parent, I want to pass those great Christmas memories on to my kids. I want them to love Christmas like I do. I want them to like Christmas music. I want them to crack up laughing at Clark Griswold punching a plastic Santa Clause in the face. I want them to like going to the mall and seeing all the Christmas decorations. So, how do I accomplish this? This is a question that all American parents have to ask themselves (especially Christian parents). How do we approach this season with our kids? How do we handle the Santa thing? Does telling our kids that Santa is real mean that we are lying to our kids? (The answer is yes. How is that even a question?) What about Elf on the shelf? If we tell our kids that Santa isn’t real, will they ruin other kids’ Christmas? Will our kids still have as much fun with Christmas if we don’t do the whole “Santa thing”? These are all questions my wife and I have discussed, and I know we are not alone. On the surface, all of these questions seem innocent enough. Some might think that they are good questions to ask, but whatever you decide to do really doesn’t matter in the long run, it’s just a matter of personal preference. I would like to, if I may, give some thoughts on this idea because I believe that there are bigger things at stake here than just Santa and Elf on the Shelf.

The reality is, our children’s view of God, Christ, and the Gospel will largely be shaped by us, their parents.

Do I think that Santa and Elf on the Shelf are inherently evil? No. In fact, I believe that it’s great to include fun, fictional characters into our holiday celebrations. But I also believe that it’s important to keep them as just that, “fun and fictional”. One thing I have learned in my short time as a parent, is that everything we do as parents communicates something to our children about who God is. The Bible’s description of God as our “Heavenly Father” is not by accident. God uses the family unit as one of the main ways in which we see His Gospel of Grace in our lives. Anyone who has been a parent for any amount of time knows that parenting puts us in situations that expose our sinfulness and reveal our need of a Savior like very few other things can. How we respond in those moments speaks volumes to our children. Do we turn to Christ and his sufficient grace or do we rely on our own attempts at bankrupt self-righteousness? The reality is, our children’s view of God, Christ, and the Gospel will largely be shaped by us, their parents.

This reality should cause us to question the idea that there is a magical, invisible person who sees the actions of everyone, everywhere. And based on the goodness or badness of our behavior, gives out good gifts to those who have earned them. Those that are deemed “naughty” have no hope other than to shape up and be better.

Unfortunately, I fear many of us would describe God the same way. We have confused the true gospel of Jesus with the false gospel of Santa.

Messages of God sending His Son to the earth to rescue us from our sinful actions get intertwined with messages of someone making lists and checking them twice to find out if we are naughty or nice.

In reality, the message of Santa and the message of the Gospel couldn’t be any more opposite. Santa sees everything we do and rewards or punishes us based on whether we are good or bad. God sees everything we do and and knows that it is all bad (Rom. 3:11-12, Eph. 2:1-3). But the good news is, instead of just labeling us as “naughty” and giving us what we deserve, he sent his only Son into the world to give us precisely what we didn’t deserve and could never earn: The free gift of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It’s crazy to think that such opposing ideas can occupy the same bandwidth. But that is precisely what happens this time of year. Messages of God sending His Son to the earth to rescue us from our sinful actions get intertwined with messages of someone making lists and checking them twice to find out if we are naughty or nice.

The two cannot peaceably coexist. Why would we want them to?

So, have fun this Christmas. Put up your tree. Decorate your house with lights. Listen to Christmas music. Throw ugly Christmas sweater parties (and invite me to them). Give gifts, lots of them if you can afford it. Spend time with family, even the crazy side. Get your kids’ picture with Santa (even if he “sits on a throne of lies”).

Let’s just remember to do it all with the understanding that there is something bigger going on. Something greater and more glorious than naughty and nice lists or the “snitch” on the shelf. Let’s do it all with the joy and freedom of knowing that Christ came to free us from the bondage of being “good enough” because he was “good enough” for us.

That, to me, sounds like a reason to celebrate.