The big fella.
Every Christmas the big red starts making his appearance. And so we dust off and roll out the red carpet for our hailed guest at Christmas Carols. News Shows. Adverts. Major festivals. Photo shoots. Sporting events. Pageants. Ceremonies. Parties.
Santa’s social stocks go off the freaking charts.
And amongst all the flashing lights and fan-fare, the true Christmas story appears increasingly irrelevant. God is thrown onto the back-burner. Jesus is once again driven back into his manger on the outskirts of town, as we fill and leave no room or vacancy for the God who came to save the very people who showed him the stiff arm.
It’s not unusual for Jesus to have opposition. Hear that loud and clear. Jesus is no stranger to rejection. Jesus even expected it (John 15:18). But if you’re going to hate on God, at least get your criticisms remotely right. Get it right. See it clear. Don’t mix it up.
Don’t make the mistake of muddying the waters of God himself.
Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Saviour
Here’s the creed.
In Jesus we have a crystal clear image of God. And so if other people or ideas are subtly smuggled into the conversation, we have a muddying of those waters. When the focus is taken off Jesus as our final and decisive image of God, the water pollutes.
And here’s my issue. Some people I meet legitimately see God a heck of a lot like Santa. And I’m not just talking about kids. There are adults I know that have bought into an image of God that is really just Santa in disguise. Sounds stupid. But it’s true.
Santa becomes a tragic distraction when we blur the lines and muddy the waters between him and God. And Santa perpetuates three huge myths about God. Three myths that the very meaning and purpose of Christmas set in motion to abort – once and for all.
It’s time to put Santa on trial.
- God is a removed, retiring recluse
Santa lives far away and acts once a year. God has drawn near and he’s here to stay – continually willing and working for his people
He lives in a far away place. He watches everything going on. He hopes people are doing good and living as well as they can. He keeps a record of what is happening all over the world. And once a year he gets off his armchair and do some work.
No, I’m not talking about God.
Santa is the celebrated poster boy of a removed, retiring recluse. And here’s the issue. A lot of people ascribe the same characteristics to God. They muster up an image of God as a distant somebody. A divine-dude who takes annual leave most days of the year, lives in a far away place, and doesn’t care enough to lend humanity a hand.
Christmas is a massive indictment on this myth.
To say that God is not with us is to look at history with your eyes closed. Because Jesus Christ – who is Himself the very imprint of God (Hebrews 1:3) – drew near to us in physical form. Immanuel – meaning God with us – entered the scene (Matthew 1:23).
And what did Jesus say with some of his last words on earth? What did Jesus really want ringing in our ears? “Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Surely. Always. Even to the end of the age. You can bank your life on it.
It all slams the door on the accusation that God is some self-appointed outcast without any real care for his people. Don’t dress up God to look like Santa.
God is an all-pervasive, permanent presence.
- God rarely shows up, but when he does, it’s mysterious
Santa appears in mysterious and undocumented ways. God appears to us in physical form – documented for millions to see and savour
He intervenes on earth’s affairs just once in the whole year.
And when he does decide to show up, he doesn’t take the conventional front door approach. No no no. He decides, of all things, to slide down your freaking chimney. And only if you’re lucky, and I mean really lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of him.
Unfortunately, that is many people’s view of God.
It’s this weird idea that God somehow hasn’t shown up in an obvious way to the world. Now hear me out: this objection might work for other religions. But if you are talking about Christianity, you literally couldn’t be more wrong.
Because Christianity is founded on the very person of Jesus. Objective. Straight up facts. God in the flesh (John 1), enters into history, lived and died and now lives again. The works and words of Jesus recorded as historical and reliable documents – the word of God – carried across centuries for millions to be able to know this God.
So. Please. Stop making weird inferences about how much God is present in your life according to how good or bad things are going. And don’t start thinking that staring into the sky for a sign is going to help you much. Here’s a thought: if you really want to hear God speak to you – read your Bible out loud. Hear his voice loud and clear in scripture.
And if you really want to see God – look at Jesus.
Not a freaking chimney.
- God gives if you’re good
Santa comes with a clause. Jesus comes as our Christ.
This is the worst myth off them all.
We all know the song: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good – so be good for goodness sake.” In other words, Santa is a behaviour management strategy. And he’s the ace up your sleeve when the kids are climbing the curtains.
We can essentially rename Santa “Religion“ here. Because everything good from the hand of Santa comes as a direct result of what you have done. If you’re a good person – you’ll get whatever you want. Get your wish list in. Start working. Start ticking the boxes.
Oh, how many people get this so wrong about God.
Quite the opposite. Jesus came to remove the rug of religion out from under us. He came to tell us that none of us will make God’s good list on our own – because “only God is good” (Mark 10:18), and all of us who are not God will never measure up to that standard – “no not one” (Romans 3:10-12). But here’s the awesome reality:
Jesus came not to condemn but to save (John 3:17).
When that hits you, and I pray it does, you will never be the same. That “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s incredible. Jesus knows how far short we fall of God’s standard. But he doesn’t leave us in our deserved plight. Jesus stoops down to speak and to save, when in his perfect justice he could have chosen to smite.
Don’t make God look like Santa. Because all the boxes are ticked in Jesus. And so everything good from the hand of God comes as a direct result of the work of Jesus.
What a King! What a Saviour!
THE NITTY GRITTY
“If being Jesus focused is a killjoy for your Christmas, you don’t know Jesus” – John Piper
Want to finish with a final word.
There’s probably some who are a little bemused with me right now. I mean really. We’re doing it for the kids – Santa is just a bit of fun! Understand this: I’m not here to tell you what to do. And I have no intentions of being a killjoy. I would just ask one thing of you:
Let the kids get excited about what is really great.
When your little boy comes running up to you, grinning ear to ear, and asking if Santa is still at the North Pole. Go ahead – tell him Santa is basking in the air conditioning out there. But in that same moment of excitement, don’t fail to fill him with the joy of knowing that God has drawn near. And he’s here to stay.
When your little girl comes leaping and bounding up to you, asking if she has been good enough for Santa this year. Go ahead – tell her that Santa has a couple of presents on the way. But don’t forget to tell her that God extends to us the greatest possible gift to those of us who are completely undeserving.
When you are in the car on the way to a pageant, and your children are bursting with excitement to get a high-five from Santa. Go ahead – tell them those untouched white gloved hands may touch theirs. But don’t forget to tell them that God’s hands are bloodied and splintered in the passionate pursuit of purchasing our highest good.