Over the weekend we set up and decorated our Christmas tree. We played some Christmas music while we hung the ornaments and one song in particular seemed to get stuck in my son Sam’s head. The lyrics go something like this, “He knows if you’ve been sleeping, he knows if your awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.” The next evening we were watching a Christmas special , the story line followed a town where Santa refused to go to any homes because the entire town was on the naughty list.
I really shouldn’t be surprised that the next day Sam was expressing concerns about whether or not there would be any presents for him under the tree. He is a very good boy but he is a boy and sometimes struggles to do and say the right thing. He hears the lyrics of songs, he watches the Christmas specials, he hears the stories of Santa and has become concerned that he won’t get anything for Christmas if he make the wrong decision. He doesn’t understand yet the concept of grace: a undeserved, unearned gift.
I think a lot of people have confused the message of Santa with the message of Christmas. We are concerned that if we mess up, if we don’t choose correctly, if we make the wrong decision that a lump of coal and empty tree is in our future when it comes to God. This can lead to pride in some as they say, “Look at what I have earned and how good I am.” It can lead to despair in others, “I can never be good enough to earn my salvation.” It is also not the gospel of good news. On the contrary, it is very bad news.
The Bible says that Jesus came to seek to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus said I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). The gospels are full of interactions Jesus had with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. Jesus’ own genealogy in Matthew 1 is filled with a bunch of screw ups. The words of the Christmas story are filled with words like Savior and Lord.
Jesus didn’t run away from the sinner He leaned into them. He pursued them. He went to parties with them. He offered them grace, new life, and fresh starts. One of the greatest stories Jesus ever told was a story of a son who left home and squandered his family fortunes on wild living and prostitutes. When he hits rock bottom and comes home the father is waiting for him. He didn’t receive a lump of coal from his father, he received a party.
The message of Christmas is not be nice not naughty and maybe Jesus will love us. Many stay away from faith and spirituality for years thinking that God is mad at them and they need to get it together before they can come home. The message of Christmas is come to Jesus as you are, with your habits, hurts, and hang ups…..HE LOVES YOU. Once we are home, His power, presence, and guidance begins to change us and make us new. Said another way, “He loves you the way you are but He loves you too much to leave you that way.” The order is crucially important….the gospel is not get it together first and then come home. The gospel is come home first, experience His grace, and the Father will help you put it back together. Those are very different messages.
Paul writes in Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free.”
The gift of Jesus is the gift of life.
The gift of Jesus is the gift of grace.
The gift of Jesus is the gift of peace.
The gift of Jesus is the gift of hope.
It is not dependent on you it is dependent on Him.
It is not earned through hard work it is accepted through faith.
Back to my original story. What do we do about this subtle message of Santa that Christmas must be earned? Some Christians would say we shouldn’t do the Santa thing at all. I AM NOT PREPARED OR READY TO SAY THAT! That is a decision that every family must make for themselves. I believe there is lots of freedom in that decision. There are no wrong answers to that one. If you know me at all you know that I am kind of Christmas freak, I kind of like Santa. That being said, I think our message to our children needs to be:
JESUS IS BETTER THAN SANTA
I think we must make sure we preach the gospel to our kids. We must tell them that Jesus invites us to come to Him as we are and He forgives us and loves us. It doesn’t stop there because He teaches, challenges, and empowers us to live different lives. You see, the Santa story is all about us and our righteousness and our behavior. The Christmas story is all about Jesus and His righteousness and behavior. Let’s lift Him up to our families.