Well, Christmas is nearly upon us. The music has been playing in stores and on the radio for some time, Christmas specials and shopping sprees, Christmas cookie exchanges, the tree, presents….all of the things that go into making this holiday have become an integral part of our life. But the interesting thing about Christmas is it is a shared holiday. That is, two religions claim Christmas.
The first religion that claims Christmas are the Christians. The ones who celebrate the birth of their Savior on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. The other religion is that of the American secular society that celebrates Christmas Eve/Day as the day when Santa Claus delivers presents to children all over the world.
I’m not a fan of Santa. In fact, I’d prefer to not have Santa involved in the discussions of Christmas with our children. I lost that battle. But, nevertheless, I still think Christians make a mistake when they buy all-in to the Santa Claus story. You see Santa and his mythology, is the anti-gospel.
Don’t get me wrong: it is the perfect story. Somewhere in the frozen tundra, specifically somewhere in the North Pole, there lies a magical land inhabited by elves, flying reindeer and a Tolkien-like creature named Santa Claus who is ancient but frozen in time. This creature known as Santa is all powerful:
He sees you 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.
Santa is, in effect, omniscient and omnipresent. He is a god. Not only does he know everything about everyone everywhere, but in one night he is able to visit every household on earth, enter, deliver toys and depart undetected. It is a fun story. One that I’d probably enjoy reading any other time of day.
But it has been turned into a religion. The religion now has hymns, poetry, movies, decorations, employees. The government endorses it; the media encourages, corporations push it and consumers joyfully buy into it.
My problem is focused on the central story of Santa Claus, the theology of pseud0-Christmas. It is a works-based salvation. If you behave, you are rewarded by god. If you are bad, then you are punished by god. Parents encourage their children to be on their best behavior throughout the year, because if they don’t, they might get coal for Christmas. This is the antithesis of the gospel. And unfortunately, we celebrate this lie on the very night we are supposed to be celebrating the good news of great joy known as the gospel, which is inaugurated with the birth of Jesus Christ.
The gospel starts from a similar place. There is a God who exists, and this God is indeed omniscient and omnipresent. But instead of rewarding us for good works, he rewards us because of the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Our reward is a free gift of grace, not something we can earn and not something we can lose. As Paul put it in Ephesians 2.8-10: For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So this Christmas remember, there are two religions and they are in opposition to one another. One teaches a gospel of works, one teaches a gospel of grace.