Tag Archives: Christmas

The Theology of Santa

If you were to ask 10 professing Christians to give their opinion on the use of Santa Claus this time of year, specifically as he relates to young children, their responses would likely range from one end of the spectrum to the other.  On the one hand someone might say that there is nothing wrong with having a little fun and “sharing the magic of Christmas” by telling little ones about Santa, toys, reindeer, his sleigh, etc.  While on the other hand someone might strictly prohibit such folklore for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the confusion of Santa’s characteristics with those of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Before you dismiss this post as an attack on the mythological kingdom of Santa, let’s logically work through this issue and think clearly and biblically about what is involved.

Last year I posted an excellent article on Santa written by Pastor John Piper’s wife, Noel.  In that article she described how she addressed Santa Claus with her children as they were growing up and she gives helpful advice to fellow parents who are faced with the same challenge.  There was a lot of feedback on that post with really good comments, but unfortunately they were on Facebook, so we’re left without a record to reflect back on here.  I commend that article to you as well and hope that you may find it helpful.  Since that post seemed to reflect the spectrum of opinions that I alluded to earlier, I thought it necessary this year to explore a bit deeper into the persona of Santa that the world has created.

Below is the old Christmas song that we’ve all grown up with which describes some of Santa’s characteristics and some biblical issues with this, which we’ll identify below:    

You better watch out!
Better not cry!
Better not pout!
I’m telling you why,
Santa Claus is comin’ to town.

He’s making a list
and checking it twice.
He’s going to find out who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.

He sees when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good.
So be good for goodness sake!

You better watch out!
Better not cry!
Better not pout!
I’m telling you why,
Santa Claus is comin’ to town.

I know what some of you are probably thinking, “Is this guy seriously going to dissect a silly make believe children’s song?”  “What is the harm in Santa?”  The problem is not Santa himself because he doesn’t exist.  The problem is the thought process behind him and just how closely his character mimics that of Jesus.  Something we’ll refer to here as the Theology of Santa. 

Take a look at the seemingly innocent song from above and think about it not just in terms of your adult mind, but through the mind of a child.  In the first stanza, bad behavior, namely “pouting” or “crying” is discouraged because Santa is coming.  The motive for good behavior comes from the thought of being rewarded for it and there is an anticipation of his coming so as to receive that reward.  Compare this thought that is taught to children from the earliest of ages with what we should be teaching our children from the Bible.  We read of quite a different message in Isaiah 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”  Here Isaiah puts our “good deeds” in perspective by stating they are literally like a polluted (bloody) rag.  Likewise the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:9 states “and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  Paul informs us that his (and our) righteousness is not of his own, but instead the righteousness is actually God’s that comes from faith in Jesus.  Additionally, the Bible does not merely reduce sin to bad behavior that goes unrewarded, but it clearly states that sin will be punished by death. Romans 3:23 With this we can introduce our first danger of propagating the Theology of Santa.    Danger #1: Good behavior is rewarded.  Bad behavior isn’t punished, but simply goes unrewarded.

In the second stanza we see the division of good vs. bad, or “naughty vs. nice”, as it’s so eloquently described.  This division, captured in a “list”, highlights the importance of being good because the record of rights and wrongs are closely monitored and those who have met the performance requirements will be deemed “good”, while those who fail the standard are classified “bad”.  This thought assumes the ability of a person (or child) to be moral based on their own ability and establishes a standard external to themselves.  Contrast that with Romans 3:10-17 that highlights the sinful nature of man 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  Additionally, Psalm 103:12 affirms that a record of transgressions are not kept and held against those who are children of God, but instead they are cast “as far as the east is from the west.”  Also we read in Colossians 2:14 that God cancelled our “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.”  This brings us to summarizeDanger #2: Perform to the best of your moral ability.  A record of your good is weighed against the record of your bad and you will be rewarded accordingly.

In the third stanza, we get a closer glimpse into the mythical attributes of Santa.  1) Omnipresence: he knows when you’re sleeping and awake.  2) Omniscience: he knows whether you’ve been good or bad.  3) Omnipotent: his ability to distribute rewards or withhold them based on performance.  Clearly these are attributes of deity assigned to a mythical man for the purpose of inspiring good behavior.  Again, moralist behavior is emphasized for its own sake.  The biblical implications here are quite obvious, because it’s clear that those attributes given to Santa are the same possessed by God.  Not only is this idolatrous, but creates an obstacle in trying to explain to children who God really is and in describing His uniquely divine characteristics.  Likewise, it subverts the biblical message of holiness in the lives of believers.   Danger #3: God is not unique in His divine characteristics.

Likely some of you are dismissing this entire study as pointless and juvenile, but my prayer is that others of you are seriously considering the implications.  It is a shame that kids are taught more about how to respond and react to Santa than they are to Jesus Christ.  Look again at the brief list of issues that we’ve come up with and think about them in terms of your children.  How their behavior is not guided by biblical standards, but instead through a moralistic program that rewards performance.  The reward drives the behavior, not the desire to please or honor Christ.  Second, think about the elaborate system that is set up in teaching young children about Santa.  Fundamentally it is lying to them, no matter how it’s dissected because we are telling them someone exists that truly doesn’t (and no, the actual figure St. Nicholas did not possess characteristics of deity so the two figures are not equal).  Finally, once this system is created and the annual anticipation is built up for Santa year after year, what becomes of the child when he/she is actually confronted with the truth?  Heartbroken?  Feelings of being lied to?  Are they then to ever believe that God actually exists, since some of His attributes have been assigned to a Santa that now doesn’t exist?  Why should they believe that Jesus will judge us according to His moral law and that it’s through no performance of our own, but by relying on the righteousness of Christ instead?  Why should they believe that, for fear that they may only have the proverbial rug pulled from under them again?  Simply stated, the benefits do not outweigh the consequences.

One final thought, children aside, what we’ve determined to be the “Theology of Santa” is actually symptomatic of our society today.  The “God” that many people worship in this country is not too far removed from the one described above.  We’ve reduced God to a jolly father-time looking old man that has our best interests at heart and is there merely to bless us with rewards.  As long as our good outweighs our bad, then we’re in good standing with Him.  Throw in a few genie lamp rubs of “God help me through this” and what we have is not too different than the figure described earlier.  Author and professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, Christian Smith coined a term known as moralistic therapeutic deism that we can apply here.  He summarizes those who unknowingly ascribe to this as having 1) A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.  2)  God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.  3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one-self.  4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem. 5) Good people go to heaven when they die. 

At its heart, this is precisely what is on display with the logic behind something as seemingly benign as the Santa Claus myth.  A god created in the mind of man that exists to reward us as long as we are on our best behavior and fair to one another.  He is distant, uninvolved, and disinterested until it becomes mainly about us and then He becomes personal.  Any figure/persona/being/object that is given deified attributes and is placed on a pedestal either equal or above the one true living God as He is described in the Bible is an idol.  To worship or revere such a figure is idolatrous and a violation of the 1st Commandment.  We’ve overlooked that in this country all in the name of fun and “Christmas spirit”, but it’s not all that different than the god of Hinduism or Buddhism, and as we’ve seen the god of some professing Christians as well.  Pray about this and make biblically informed decisions about how best to handle this with your own children.  Don’t follow the path that the world creates for the sake of conformity.  Follow the path of Christ for the sake of obedience.

Sharing Christ at Christmas

This Christmas don’t just look at it as a time for food, gifts, and fellowship with friends and family, but look at it as an opportunity to share Christ with your loved ones.  Most of us know how difficult and sometimes awkward it can be to bring up Christ with family and friends because we have a fear that it might make the other person feel uncomfortable.  Most people would probably prefer to share Christ with a complete stranger than with someone with whom they have a preexisting relationship.  Why is that?  It’s likely a deceitful scheme by Satan, because truthfully sharing Christ with those closest to us should not only be a priority, but it should be something we feel comfortable doing.  To ease into this conversation, try sharing how the Lord has blessed your life this year, the things He has taught you, or the growth that you’ve made and then invite others to do the same.  For those who may not have anything to share, invite them to share areas in their life where they would like to see God work in the coming year and then encourage them to seek Him daily in prayer and reading of His word such that they might see those changes made.  Below is an encouraging sermon by Charles Spurgeon on sharing the Gospel during the holidays.  Some great advice from a wise sage and well worth the read.

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Going Home: A Christmas Sermon*
C.H. Spurgeon
December 21, 1856

The demoniac’s story

This poor wretch, being possessed with a legion of evil spirits had been driven to something worse than madness. He fixed his home among the tombs, where he dwelt by night and day, and was the terror of all those who passed by. The authorities had attempted to curb him; he had been bound with fetters and chains, but in the paroxysms of his madness he had torn the chains in sunder, and broken the fetters in pieces.

Attempts had been made to reclaim him, but no man could tame him. He was worse than the wild beasts, for they might be tamed; but his fierce nature would not yield. He was a misery to himself, for he would run upon the mountains by night and day, crying and howling fearfully, cutting himself with the sharp flints, and torturing his poor body in the most frightful manner.

Jesus Christ passed by; he said to the devils, “Come out of him.” The man was healed in a moment, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, he became a rational being—an intelligent man, and what is more, a convert to the Savior.

The demoniac’s commission

Out of gratitude to his deliverer, he said, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go. I will be your constant companion and your servant, permit me so to be” [Mark 5:18].

“No,” said Christ, “I esteem your motive, it is one of gratitude to me, but if you would show your gratitude, go home to your friends and tell them of the great things the Lord has done for you, and how he has had compassion on you.”

Christmas is suited for sharing the gospel with family and friends.

True religion does not break the bonds of family relationship. True religion seldom encroaches upon that sacred—I had almost said divine—institution called home. It does not separate men from their families, and make them aliens to their flesh and blood.…

Christianity makes a husband a better husband, it makes a wife a better wife than she was before. It does not free me from my duties as a son; it makes me a better son, and my parents better parents. Instead of weakening my love, it gives me fresh reason for my affection; and he whom I loved before as my father, I now love as my brother and co-worker in Christ Jesus; and she whom I reverenced as my mother, I now love as my sister in the covenant of grace, to be mine for ever in the state that is to come.…

For my part, I wish there were twenty Christmas days in the year. It is seldom that young men can meet with their friends; it is rarely they can all be united as happy families….I love it as a family institution, as one of England’s brightest days, the great Sabbath of the year, when the plough rests in its furrow, when the din of business is hushed, when the mechanic and the working man go out to refresh themselves upon the green sward of the glad earth.

Aim to share the story of God’s grace in your life.

It is to be a story of personal experience: “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.”

You are not to repair to your houses to preach. You are not to begin to take up doctrinal subjects and expatiate on them, and endeavor to bring persons to your peculiar views and sentiments. You are not to go home with sundry doctrines you have lately learned, and try to teach these. You are to go home and tell not what you have believed, but what you have felt—what you really know to be your own; not what great things you have read, but what great things the Lord hath done for you; not alone what you have seen done in the great congregation, and how great sinners have turned to God, but what the Lord has done for you. And mark this: there is never a more interesting story than that which a man tells about himself.…

Go home, young man, and tell the poor sinner’s story; go home, young woman, and open your diary, and give your friends stories of grace. Tell them of the mighty works of God’s hand which he hath wrought in you from his own free, sovereign, undeserved love. Make it a free grace story around your family fire.

By sharing we edify believers.

If you want to make your mother’s heart leap within her, and to make your father glad—if you would make that sister happy who sent you so many letters, which sometimes you read against a lamp-post, with your pipe in your mouth—go home and tell your mother that her wishes are all accomplished, that her prayers are heard, that you will no longer chaff her about her Sunday-school class, and no longer laugh at her because she loves the Lord, but that you will go with her to the house of God, for you love God.…

Cannot you imagine the scene, when the poor demoniac mentioned in my text went home? He had been a raving madman; and when he came and knocked at the door, don’t you think you see his friends calling to one another in affright, “Oh! there he is again,” and the mother running up stairs and locking all the doors, because her son had come back that was raving mad; and the little ones crying because they knew what he had been before—how he cut himself with stones, because he was possessed with devils. And can you picture their joy, when the man said, “Mother! Jesus Christ has healed me, let me in; I am no lunatic now!”

By sharing we reach lost friends and family.

I hear one of you say, “Ah! Sir, would to God I could go home to pious friends! But when I go home I go into the worst of places; for my home is amongst those who never knew God themselves, and consequently never prayed for me, and never taught me anything concerning heaven.”

Go home to them, and tell them, not to make them glad, for they will very likely be angry with you, but tell them for their soul’s salvation. I hope, when you are telling the story of what God did for you, that they will be led by the Spirit to desire the same mercy themselves.

Be alert for one-on-one opportunities to share your story.

Do not tell this story to your ungodly friends when they are all together, for they will laugh at you. Take them one by one, when you can get them alone, and begin to tell it to them, and they will hear you seriously.…You may be the means of bringing a man to Christ who has often heard the Word and only laughed at it, but who cannot resist a gentle admonition.

Don’t expect this sharing to be easy.

For I hear many of my congregation say, “Sir, I could relate that story to anyone sooner than I could to my own friends; I could come to your vestry, and tell you something of what I have tasted and handled of the Word of God; but I could not tell my father, nor my mother, nor my brethren, nor my sisters.”

Overcome this fear by sharing to honor your Savior.

I know you love him; I am sure you do, if you have proof that he loved you. You can never think of Gethsemane and of its bloody sweat, of Gabbatha and of the mangled back of Christ, flayed by the whip: you can never think of Calvary and his pierced hands and feet, without loving him, and it is a strong argument when I say to you, for his dear sake who loved you so much, go home and tell it. If Christ has done much for you, you cannot help it—you must tell it.

Share your story with gratitude to God.

No story is more worth hearing than a tale of gratitude. This poor man’s tale was a grateful story. I know it was grateful, because the man said, “I will tell thee how great things the Lord hath done for me.” A man who is grateful is always full of the greatness of the mercy which God has shown him; he always thinks that what God has done for him is immensely good and supremely great.

Share your story with humility.

It must be a tale told by a poor sinner who feels himself not to have deserved what he has received. Oh! when we tell the story of our own conversion, I would have it done with deep sorrow, remembering what we used to be, and with great joy and gratitude, remembering how little we deserve these things. Why, then, my eyes began to be fountains of tears, those hearers who had nodded their heads began to brighten up, and they listened, because they were hearing something which the man felt himself and which they recognized as being true to him, if it was not true to them.

Tell your story, my hearers, as lost sinners. Do not go to your home, and walk into your house with a supercilious air, as much as to say, “Here’s a saint come home to the poor sinners, to tell them a story.”…

Do not intrude yourselves upon those who are older, and know more, but tell your story humbly; not as a preacher, but as a friend and as a son.

Share your story truthfully—don’t embellish it.

Do not tell more than you know; do not tell John Bunyan’s experience, when you ought to tell your own. Do not tell your mother you have felt what only Rutherford felt. Tell her no more than the truth. Tell your experience truthfully, for one single fly in the pot of ointment will spoil it, and one statement you may make which is not true may ruin it all.

Tell your story seriously—don’t share it flippantly.

Let them see you mean it. Do not talk about religion flippantly; you will do no good if you do. Do not make puns on texts. Do not quote Scripture by way of joke. If you do, you may talk till you are dumb, you will do no good, if you in the least degree give them occasion to laugh by laughing at holy things yourself. Tell it very earnestly.…

Perhaps when you are telling the story one of your friends will say, “And what of that?” And your answer will be, “It may not be a great thing to you, but it is to me. You say it is little to repent, but I have not found it so; it is a great and precious thing to be brought to know myself to be a sinner, and to confess it, do you say it is a little thing to have found a Savior. If you had found him too, you would not think it little. You think it little I have lost the burden from my back; but if you had suffered with it, and felt its weight as I have for many a long year, you would think it no little thing to be emancipated and free, through a sight of the cross.”

Don’t neglect your personal devotions during Christmas.

When you are at home for Christmas, let no one see your face till God has seen it. Be up in the morning, wrestle with God; and if your friends are not converted, wrestle with God for them, and then you will find it easy work to wrestle with them for God.

Rest upon the Holy Spirit’s help to share.

Do not be afraid, only think of the good you may possibly do. Remember, he that saves a soul from death has covered a multitude of sins, and he shall have stars in his crown forever and ever.…Let your reliance in the Holy Spirit be entire and honest. Trust not yourself, but fear not to trust him. He can give you words. He can apply those words to their heart, and so enable you to “minister grace to the hearers” [Ephesians 4:29].

Remember that this story you share over the holidays is the story that will be on your lips eternally.

When we go home to our friends in Paradise, what shall we do?

First we will repair to that blest seat where Jesus sits, take off our crown and cast it at his feet, and crown him Lord of all. And when we have done that, what shall be our next employ? We will tell the blessed ones in heaven what the Lord hath done for us, and how he hath had compassion on us.

And shall such tale be told in heaven? Shall that be the Christmas Carol of the angels? Yes it shall be; it has been published there before—blush not to tell it yet again—for Jesus has told it before, “When he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.”

Poor sheep, when you shall be gathered in, will you not tell how your Shepherd sought you and found you? Will you not sit in the grassy meads of heaven, and tell the story of your own redemption? Will you not talk with your brothers and sisters, and tell them how God loved you and has brought you there?

Perhaps you say, “It will be a very short story.” Ah! It would be if you could write now. A little book might be the whole of your biography; but up there when your memory shall be enlarged, when your passion shall be purified, and your understanding clear, you will find that what was but a tract on earth will be a huge tome in heaven. You will tell a long story there of God’s sustaining, restraining, constraining grace. And I think that when you pause to let another tell his tale, and then another, and then another, you will at last, when you have been in heaven a thousand years, break out and exclaim, “O saints, I have something else to say.” Again they will tell their tales, and again you will interrupt them with “Oh, beloved, I have thought of another case of God’s delivering mercy.” And so you will go on, giving them themes for songs, finding them the material for the warp and woof of heavenly sonnets.

*From http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/blogs/cj-mahaney/post/2010/12/14/Spurgeon-on-sharing-the-gospel-during-Christmas.aspx

Why did Jesus come?

In His own words:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Jesus’ powerful statement that His life was to fulfill all that the Law and the Prophets spoke of.  The Law and the Prophets, included in what is now the Old Testament, foreshadowed and pointed toward the coming of Christ.

Matthew 20:28 “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came as a servant, though not in the sense that so many take this verse to mean.  By giving His life willingly and obediently on the cross, Jesus was the ultimate servant and paid the debt for all who believe in Him.

Luke 4:43 “but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’”  The Gospel literally means “good news” and that is the reason Jesus came, to proclaim the “good news”(which He actually is), that man now has hope, by repenting and placing their faith in Him, they will be washed clean of their sin and avoid the coming wrath of God against them.

Luke 12:49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!”  An oft overlooked passage, Jesus followed up this bold statement with verse 51, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”  Many people focus on the “peace” that Jesus brings, but this is not a physical worldly peace.  It is a peace between sinful man and God (See Romans 5:1) and it is an internal spiritual peace (See Romans 8:6) for those who believe in Him.  However, just as He states in this passage, there will not be peace between those who are of Christ and those who are of the world, because the world hates Him and His followers.

Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  The lost here refers to lost in sin, hopeless and helpless.  Note here that the action is placed on Jesus; He is the One seeking and saving.  Contrary to the “seeker sensitive” gospel, Romans 3:11 says no one seeks God.  Jesus is The Seeker.

John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  God’s plan of redemption was to always save His children.  He didn’t create the world just to destroy it, nor did He send Jesus to condemn it, but to redeem His own, His bride.

John 9:39 “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’”  Just as He wasn’t sent to condemn the entire world, it must be said that those who do not believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of their sin, and following after Him will face judgment.  Specifically this analogy of sight was a direct condemnation of the Pharisees with whom He was speaking (See John 9:40-41, also Matthew 13:13-17).

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  This passage does not refer to the hijacked message which we hear from the “prosperity gospel” that says we can live our best life now and have it abundantly.  No, the purpose for Jesus coming was that through Him, all those who believe would have everything they need, meaning spiritually and physically (see Matthew 6:25-33).  God supplies the needs of His children.

John 12:47 “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”  This is not a contradiction to the passage earlier from John 9:39.  Jesus is simply stating at the present time, in context meaning then, those who do not abide by His words will not be judged at that time, because judgment will come upon Jesus’ second coming.  So too today, those who hear and do not keep the Words of Jesus are not presently before the Judgment Seat, but that day is coming.

John 18:37 “Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.  For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’”  This verse can summarize all the others that we’ve red thus far, as Christ states He has come to bear witness to the truth.  Pilate followed up with the question we hear often in today’s post-modern world, “What is truth?” a question that we need to ask ourselves.  In John 14:6, Jesus states that He is the Truth, while in John 17:17, He states that the word of God is truth.  John 1:14 links them both together as we read the “Word became flesh”.  Jesus came to bear witness of Himself.

This Christmas season, in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, reflect on those passages above.  Take time to look at them in context so that you might understand the reason that Jesus came.  In doing so, my prayer is that you will have a deeper understanding of the sacrifice that Christ made and give thanks to Him all the more not only during Christmas, but year round.