Op-Ed: ‘Focus on Christ, Not Santa,’ Says Montana Pastor

[http://www.utexas.edu/features/2010/12/06/christmas_america/ 'Santa's Portrait' byThomas Nast, published in Harper's Weekly, 1881]

[Matt Davis] I am not an anti-Santa Clause kind of guy. I have no problem with my children pretending (I don’t lie to them, they all know there is no Santa) that there is a fat guy in a red suit who flies around on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. I admit, I like the whole of the Christmas season with its traditions and themes that are often completely absent from the Biblical narrative. And so I watch the shows and movies that depict Santa Clause and his whole endeavor to give gifts to good boys and girls around the world. But, in watching these things I have noticed both the human proclivity to put ourselves under a perpetual covenant of works; and the desire everyone has to acknowledge God.

Unfortunately, unbelievers suppress the truth and exchange the glory of God for a lie; still, what follows is merely an observation and not a condemnation of the lore of Santa.

Santa is most often portrayed as a fat, jolly guy living in the North Pole who has some strange ability to know everything that you do, whether good or bad. It’s his job to give gifts to all the boys and girls who have done more good than bad and for the children who are not good, and thus bad, he get them lumps of coal instead of a nice present. Santa is also able to travel the world in a single night and deliver all these goods to every household without being seen. It is terribly intriguing to see the similarities between Santa and the Holy God of the Scriptures. It’s almost as if mankind really does believe in God, and can’t stand to live altogether without Him.

But the intrigue goes even further when we see how Santa operates. He is the official head of a covenant of works that demands good behavior in order for you to receive your reward. The naughty list becomes the condemning power of the law and strikes fear into the hearts of people in order to motivate obedience. The primary aspect of this Santa covenant is that good works get you good presents. Santa serves as this god-like figure to a world that knows there is good and evil and yet we define what is good or evil according to our own desires. Moral relativism, or the idea that morality is not a fixed thing but fluid and changing, is the stuff that Santa promotes in his covenant of works. There is no actual law with Santa that objectively defines good and evil, so we can change the naughty list as we see fit. Everyone has a shot at a present, it just depends on how culturally informed you are.

The reason I would even write about all this, is that I think it’s very important to teach our children (and ourselves) the great difference between Santa and the God the Bible. Santa really is the world’s warped projection of god and how to get good gifts from him. Children are quite sharp, if we tell them about these things they will distinguish correctly and can know God and still enjoy holiday traditions without being in any spiritual danger. But they must see how superior the true God of the Scriptures is to the god of the world during the holiday season. This renders Santa as a harmless imaginative figure who over time is no more concerning than any other fantasy figure.

What is important to emphasize is the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. We inadvertently push this covenant of works mentality when we make Christmas gifts a matter of one’s behavior. Like it or not, the culture says only good kids get presents, bad kids get coal or nothing. If we do not inform children of the difference the culture will inform their theology for us. If we only give good gifts to our children when they are good, we agree with the culture that a covenant of works mentality is the only motivator for good behavior. All this is to say, don’t try to hide your children from the Christmas traditions, instead vividly show them how inferior Santa is to God.

The whole point of Christmas is that Jesus came (the Father gave the Son) and did for us what we could not achieve by our own works. He died in our place and He lived a perfect life for us and that life is credited to our account. Jesus righteousness becomes my righteousness so that just as God the Father looked at Jesus and said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Now God looks at His people in Christ, and declares that we also are His beloved children, and in Christ we are well-pleasing to God. The benefits of that gift are given wholly to us by faith alone apart from works of the law. There is no chance that our failures and sin will land us on a naughty list once we are justified in Jesus by faith alone. It is finished!

My suggestion is that we use the Christmas season to really demonstrate this to our children and others. We freely give to those who don’t deserve anything in order to show how God is not like Santa. He is gracious to the undeserving and His kindness toward us is what motivates us to obey Him. That’s what we’re celebrating and to a small degree mimicking in our giving of gifts.

This helps us see that the difference between obedience motivated by love and obedience motivated by fear, is all the difference in the world. We love God because He first loved us and gave His only Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And if we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments.

Thank God for Jesus this Christmas and let Santa be the illustration of the superiority of the covenant of grace over the covenant of works.

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Ps. Matt Davis of Reformed Baptist Church of Helena]


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