There is a long standing debate about what parents should tell their children regarding Santa Claus. As a child, my parents would allow me to go and tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas but my parents were sure I knew that is was for fun. Because they were and are dedicated to the Bible I was taught the true Truth of Christmas from a biblical point of view.
That was me…there are basically four ways* we can understand this (or almost any!) issue.
1. Cocoon. The cocoon camp will do whatever it takes to avoid an association with Santa or his trappings. Anything that has a hint of Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, or workshops are avoided like a particularly virulent strain of the black plague.
2. Combat. Those who come out of the cocoon usually have their fists up and they are ready to roundhouse Santa right back to where he belongs…the Pit! This group will show that if you rearrange the letters of Santa’s name you get ‘Satan’. If they could they would organize a lynch mob, complete with torches and pitchforks, and storm the gates of the North Pole hideaway workshop and burn it to the ground. A question: since the Arctic Circle is not all that big, I wonder if Superman and Santa ever bump into each other.
3. Champion. The champion group will advocate complete assimilation. Santa will be the MC at the church Christmas concert. The baby Jesus will be cradled in the arms of grandfatherly old St Nick. Parents will completely forget about what truth is when they tell their kids who Santa is and what he has done.
I would suggest a better fourth option…
4. Consider. As a pastor, my responsibility it to try to help people think biblically. What does the Bible say about the “nice list”? It actually shreds it. Look at this passage:
1 And you ]were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. Ephesians 2:1-3
These are some of the strongest words about the human condition in the Bible and I love teaching this passage to 8th graders. I ask them to explain, in their words, what this sounds like to them. After a few moments of thinking about the words they come up with an apt description: Zombies! Love it. They know what a walking dead person is. Paul describes spiritual zombies in the first three verses. He is telling us that humans, because they are human, are in deep trouble before God.
Then there is the opening two words of verse 4: But God…The story of the condition of humanity does not end with a hopeless period and a closed book at the end of verse three. There is more. The “more” is God himself.
Here is more:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7
So what? The big so what here is that it is God who makes people alive because of His great love and not the fact that anyone can clean up their own naughty list!
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
These verses explain what a true gift is. We can’t do anything to earn a gift. If we had the ability to change from ‘Zombie’ to ‘nice’ list that would mean that we have done something to get God’s attention, be on his good side, and with pride declare to the world what we have done. There is nothing a human can do to make God like them and want to reward them with a gift. Gifts are free and are freely given! They are given this way so that no one can brag about their own clean up. God gives the greatest gift to the worst of zombies! How about that for a “nice list” obliteration? God gives the gift of life (this life and the next) to Zombies.
Here is the issue to truly CONSIDER: does the Bible show us that God gives gifts in the same way our popular culture does? The answer is, no. Ephesians is just one place that tells us this. Think about what we are to believe. In the 2008 movie, Seven Pounds, Will Smith plays Tim Thomas who is man on a mission of redemption. Tim makes the ultimate sacrifice for others so they can live. He gives the gift of life. The film moved me and I thought it was a stirring story. I must, however, process the story through a biblical worldview. Here is what I found. Tim Thomas was willing to sacrifice for those he deemed WORTHY. His gift giving, although extremely profound, was based on merit or a reason why he should give. He used a ‘nice’ list there were requirements to be on the list.
Okay, getting back to Santa, lists, and Zombies (someone please write that movie script! I will be first in line). So what? I am not saying that Christians should go out and kidnap every Santa from every mall and make them recant. I am not saying we should not have fun at Christmas. In fact I might wear my Grinch t-shirt this Sunday (MIGHT). I am not saying kids should not sit on Santa’s lap or have some creative fun writing a letter. My message is to think about gifts and lists from a biblical point of view. Are we comfortable living with two realities? These realities say on one hand gifts require pre-approval and on the other that they are generated by the heart of the giver (God in Jesus Christ!). Both can’t be true. Are we setting ourselves up for disappointment and confusion? Something to think about.
It would be a good thing this Christmas season to stop and thank God for the gift of life through Jesus Christ! The entirety of humanity was on the naughty list (Romans 3:23), but God (Eph 2:4) because he loves us without condition (John 3:16), gave to spiritual zombies the free gift of life in Jesus Christ (Eph 3:5; 8-9)! Merry Christmas!
* Category concepts adapted from The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite by Dick Staub