Ready or not, Santa’s coming to town

Christians struggle with Santa Clause. Seems that you are either not letting the fat-man into your house or he’s all over the house in decorations ad nauseum.  We love him or we hate him.  Surely the world looks at us and thinks that we’ve lost it, “what the big deal?”

Everybody is going to make up their own mind about Santa and the practice will follow.  Whatever.  Yet, it seems like the typical Christian responses of either swallow the thing hook, line and sinker or act like Santa’s evil won’t do.  We miss too many things either way.

There are reasons to be concerned about Santa, of course.  There are also reasons to rejoice because he’s around.  As a symbol, Santa gives us both.

Santa’s coming should be (certainly could be) a blessing and a boon to Christmas.  He is a symbol of some things that are wonderful.  What do we like about him?

He comes every year without fail!  He is consistent and dependable and even though he’s keeping lists (naughty and nice?), his big-heartedness always wins out and our stockings get filled.  Children love him because no matter how they act, he comes.  He gives them gifts they didn’t earn.  He’s mysterious and invisible and does amazing things but isn’t scary!  He’s like a superhero and a rock star all in one fat package!  He’s a man and that means he’s a tough guy (I mean, he’s out in the freezing cold in a flying sleigh for dog-dog!).  Kids like him, too, because they only have to be reminded to obey once a year!

Parents like him because he gives them an excuse to go into debt!  They also get to look down their noses at their children and remind them to be nice rather than naughty.  Santa reminds us of something that’s good and larger than life.  He lives at the North Pole and that means he’s above the fray of the day-to-day trouble we all live with.  He is relentless and ubiquitous.  He is who they hope God is – only they hope God is better.  He isn’t a judgmental character (or his judgments aren’t very weighty).  He makes no distinctions – he goes to all houses, after all.  Santa symbolizes hope, grace and God.  Giving and strong; relentless and kind; all-seeing but jolly.  He’s all we want God to be, no?

Let’s be honest.  Santa does miss some things.  Casting all our hopes on one who is like a Super Santa isn’t all its cracked up to be.  Santa looks past great evil and injustice; he just acts like its not there for a day.  He doesn’t punish evil.  He doesn’t fight our enemies.  He makes no specific promises that carry us through the immensely difficult patches of life.  He can’t kill the impulses in our hearts that drive us to sin and hate each other.  His gift giving is often shallow feeling and fleeting.  He doesn’t deal with what happens to us after we die.  He represents a departure from the first and intended meaning of the season: the birth of the Savior of the world.  He also represents what has become a troubling aspect of our culture: materialism.  Santa’s all about gifts.  We only like to think about the upside of gifts – the fun-receiving-opening-and-reveling part.  We try not to think about what we always inevitably think about with those gifts: the cost, the debt, the appetite for more it produces.  We all know this is true, but we ignore it.

Santa is a good symbol.  He brings all kinds of things that are good back to our wearied and fatigued minds.  He also reminds us (or should) that there is so much more to life and death.  Probably my favorite depiction of Santa comes from C.S. Lewis’ work, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  In the popular movie, Father Christmas catches up to the Pevensie children.  What he says is remarkable.  He reminds them that he was unable to break through the spell of the Witch (“always winter and never Christmas”) but now that Aslan has come, he is able to return.  After bestowing gifts upon the children, he bellows, “Long live Aslan!”  (The book’s account is slightly different, “Long live the True King”.)  Father Christmas depended upon Aslan.

Santa depends on God.  Without Christ’s coming, there would be no Santa.  Let’s not forget.

What should Christians do with Christmas Symbols?

I recently read a portion of a book written by Noel Piper (John Piper’s wife; he’s pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN).  In it, she talks about their own personal practice of excluding Santa from their celebrations.

She explains why they did it – her reasons made sense to me.  Things like presenting confusing or mixed messages to the children: it’s about Santa!  + it’s about Christ!  Parents often expect their kids will be able to figure out what’s real and what’s not….

Rather than comment on Noel and John Piper’s practice (which is theirs to do as they please), how about Christmas Symbols?

I began our family Advent devotions this morning after I spent some time considering the stockings hanging from our mantle….What do we do with them?  What do they mean?  What do I want my little ones concluding about them and why they appear there yearly?  I think I owe my children a framework to understand all the symbols – they need to be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff, no?

Let’s begin where I began with them: what’s the deal with all the Christmas lights?  A buddy cornered me yesterday and said, “Dude, have you seen my house?”  Um, not recently.  “I’m telling you, you’ve got to see what I’ve done with the decorations!”  Keeping up with the Joneses?  “Crushing the Joneses, dude.  Seriously, take a look!”

So, fully loaded with 14 eager eyeballs, we drove by his place.  We found a resplendent display of white Christmas lights!  I think he might’ve even had some lights not on but the ones that were lit were beautiful.  This morning, then, I asked the kids about Christmas lights – what are they for?  What do they mean?

Once I got past the typical responses (which were correct but…you know me…) I asked them about symbols.  “What does a stop sign represent?” I   asked.  My middle one said, “safety” (Ah, music to my ears…).  RIGHT!  It symbolizes safety when it is obeyed; even potential death when it is not.  I pointed out that many, many things are symbols of other things.  “And Christmas symbols mean special things.”

I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life – John 8:12

“What does light represent?  It is a symbol of what?”  Jesus!

Have you ever noticed how we wrap lights all around the Christmas tree?  Now, I’m not sure why I’ve been doing that all my life, but my wife has as well – maybe you do, too.  One could conclude that it is this way so that there is never a place you could stand and fail to see light.  Since light symbolizes Christ, the implication is that He can never be obscured – He can always been seen by those who look for Him.

I concluded the devotion by telling my kids that it isn’t just Christmas lights that represent Christ.  It is light, period.  Street lights, bathroom lights, oven lights, flood lights, stadium lights, sunlight, car head lights – any and every light is a reminder of the One who is the Light of the world.

Think about it.

Tomorrow, maybe trees and stockings.