Once you have children, Christmas becomes a much more enjoyable experience. The joy of giving to your children is a better blessing than receiving a gift. I enjoy their joy immensely. The blessing of Christmas extends beyond the actual day of Christmas. It starts at the beginning of the Christmas season, with the decorations, the change of weather, the parties, the rotation of Christmas books, the singing of seasonal songs and many other things. It is the most wonderful time of year in our culture and it should be for Christians. The anticipation of Christ’s advent to earth to dwell among us is an event so wonderful that we have dated history and centered our Church calendars around it. It is a great story that needs to be told annually.
American Christians are in a unique place with the story of Christmas because we simultaneously have a cultural holiday and a religious holiday mixed into one. In other words, you have two stories either being told separately or being twisted together into one where you end up with manger scenes that have either Santa Clause flying overhead or Santa bowing down at the manger in worship of the Christ. Certainly if the historical Saint Nicholas had been present at the birth of Christ he would bowed before Him. But Santa Clause bowing down to Christ seems rather strange.
What I find strange about mixing the two holidays isn’t that they create a tension for people to choose between Jesus and Santa Clause, but that they are two completely different stories and one of them is obviously superior to the other. The story of Jesus Christ coming to earth, is a much better story than that of Santa Clause. That statement isn’t to condemn the cultural story of Santa Clause, but to point out the superiority of the Christian story, which is why it is strange to mix the two together: they aren’t very similar. God becoming a man is a much better read than a man flying all over the earth and leaving presents for children.
Our home isn’t interested in mixing the two stories. However, we love and appreciate the unique American heritage we have and its Christmas stories that are told. As Christians, we aren’t to hate all things that our culture does, but we can receive the things that are good from our cultural celebration of Christmas and can celebrate them with others who may not be Christians. I have no problem with those who aren’t Christians who want to celebrate Christmas and even if they want to remember the origins of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. The angels did declare that the birth was for all men. We shouldn’t object to anyone remembering the birth of Jesus Christ, or object to a non-Christian who celebrates the distinctly American/Western part of Christmas history. I desire that they come to worship the Christ who came to earth to bring peace and am saddened that they choose the lesser story and not the great one, but pertaining to this holiday, I have no objections to their choosing to celebrate this day as non-Christian.
What is disappointing about these stories is when Christians do not see the superiority of the Christian story to the Santa story, particularity those with small children. These are Christians who love the Lord Jesus, love their families and desire to keep the birth of Christ at the center of what they are celebrating and to this I say Amen. The disappointment surrounds what story is being told and why its told in this particular way. These families are rightly turned off by the swaths of money spent on presents and novelties, the lack of Christmas worship services, and the declining number of families and churches that devote time reading and mediating upon the Christmas story. These are legitimate concerns that lead to levels of avoidance.
Christians are right in our desire to avoid falling prey to banality, gluttony, greed, vainglory, and envy. But is fear and avoidance enough to fight against greed, mass consumption, reckless spending and omnipresent eyes from the North Pole? No. We must believe our story is superior and then teach and celebrate it in our churches and homes. Avoiding cultural sins isn’t enough to keep Christ in Christmas. Until we come to believe that Christ’s putting on flesh and dwelling among us is a superior story than Santa Clause, our progress will be small and potentially null. We will be fighting from behind and become angry that we are losing.
I’m using the word believe intentionally because I fear our lack of belief that our story is superior is contributing to our frustration. I know we believe our story is true and that the Santa Clause story isn’t true. What I’m suggesting is that we either don’t believe our story is superior as a story or that we aren’t telling our kids and churches of its superiority. If we believe that the story of Jesus is actually true, real, good and beautiful then we must make that a joyful and intense focus of our Christmas season. We can’t expect our kids to believe this story if all we hold out to them is that Jesus is the reason for the season and we aren’t going to give you presents because we fear you may focus too much on the presents and forget Jesus. If this is what they hear, then sadly we are telling them that the Santa Clause story is a superior story to ours, but you aren’t to participate in that story because its not good for you. What can then happen is that the exact opposite of our intentions can take root: even though we sought to avoid Santa and focus on Jesus, we end up with kids who want to know more of the Santa story and can become bored with the Christian story.
What we are to hold out to our children is the story of Jesus and our place in it. Jesus came to earth, the place where we live. Jesus is eternally God and He left heaven and came to us, even though we have sinned greatly against Him. Jesus was born to a teenage peasant girl because God loves to exalt the humble and humble the proud. God sent his message first to some of the outcasts of society because they were the ones who needed the good news. They needed peace from God and peace with God. The healthy and the righteous don’t need peace from Heaven because they have made their own. For those of us who need God’s message of peace, He came to people who are just like us: the Shepherds.
Jesus, by taking a human body to himself remained in one person fully God and fully man. By doing this he could save us and empathize with us and our broken, sinful condition. He can bear our sins and pay for our sins. He understands us and makes the truth known to us. He doesn’t just understand us, but He saves us. He felt what sin has done to the world. He didn’t come near us and sit at a distance. He came near. He got his hands in the dirt. He became flesh and dwelt among us.
The Christian story is much superior to the world’s story. Once we believe this, we aren’t to fully reject the culture’s Christmas story. We can learn to appreciate it and empathize with it. We can celebrate with all and be a part of what is good here. We can read stories of Santa Clause to our kids for fun because our kids are used to reading make believe stories. Christian kids can hear about Santa Clause and think it’s a fun story that they can hear about and laugh at, no different than Jack and the beanstalk. Once that has settled into our hearts, Santa and Christmas cease to be the enemy, but just another part of a culture that is searching for someone outside of themselves to care for them and love them, but unfortunately Santa’s love for them is still dependent on their inherent goodness. Not so in Christianity. Someone outside of us does in fact love us and care for us, based on His goodness and not ours. He saw our inherent weakness and sinfulness and it moved Him to become one of us, to save us and bring us back to the only one who is truly omnipresent, our Father in Heaven. He gives us good gifts in this life to enjoy and good gifts that are eternal, the greatest of which is adoption into His family through His Son Jesus Christ.
So what do Christians do with this? Many different things, all of which are to celebrate and tell this great story. We eat and drink and are merry because it’s Christmas. We gather with others because the coming of Christ gives glory to God in the highest and brings peace on earth. It brings goodwill towards all men and because thus we often give gifts to bless those we love to express our love for them and to celebrate with them. Some Christian families choose to not give gifts to each other and to express their joy and gratitude to God by blessing others with gifts. As Christians we say amen and take delight in all of this because He was promised and He came. He was with us and is with us, forevermore. Best of all, He’s coming again and that will be the ultimate celebration with good food, good drinks and good fellowship abounding for days on end. So come, thou long expected Jesus. Come quickly. And Merry Christmas to all.
Advent 2016 A.D.