Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jesus Claus!

My parents never tried lying to me about Santa Claus. I think they just wisely avoided the topic altogether and let me figure it out on my own. I have to admit, I haven't found any suppressed childhood damage... yet. But I have always found the folk tale of Santa Claus to be a bit strange anyway, so hopefully I will never one day feel incomplete about not having given much thought about the jolly old saint.

Having just passed the Christmas holiday the effects of Santa Claus are still lingering a bit. And recently I was pondering some different takes on Atonement Theology so, naturally, one may see how the two are so closely related. Actually, I was just recently discussing some thoughts with a friend when it occurred to me that the average American Christian views God much like our favorite North Pole resident. Maybe in trying to refocus the Christmas celebration on Jesus we accidentally copied the Santa story.

When it comes to Santa Claus it all comes down to one thing: the reward-the gift that sits under the $75 Douglas Fur on Christmas morning. That is what it's all about. For the Santa fanatic the end is the gift. For many Christians it is the same. When it comes to God it all comes down to one thing: the reward of "eternal" life. For the God fanatic the end is the gift.

But of course not everyone receives Santa's gifts. Only those who make Santa's Nice List will receive gifts. Those who are on Santa's Naughty List receive nothing, or perhaps coal as the tale suggests. This pattern of thought implies that Santa's gift may be earned by good behavior. Similarly, many Christians view God's gift in the same regard: to earn God's gift one must act accordingly.

The Santa Claus style of considering God is a very clean-cut way to view things. It provides conditions, standards, and just rewards. However, I cannot convince myself that it is anywhere near the Truth of God nor His Purpose for our lives. It just isn't that easy. I thought we were all on the Naughty List ?(Rom. 3:23) I thought that Jesus died to sin once and for all of creation? (Rom. 6:10) And I thought that nothing we did made us good (Mk 7:1-13) or bad (Mk 7:14-23, Rom 8:38)? I thought that our reward was immediate, and developing, and alive in us, not something that came after we died (Mt 5:1-12, 6:25-33, Rom 6).

What struck me most while thinking about this Santa Claus view is that, for me, my favorite parts of Christmas experiences were never the gifts that waited for my greedy hands to tear open. In reality the best parts of Christmas are always the fellowship, the family, the community, the friends, the traditions that overflow with meaning, the food, the conversations, the fights, the laughter, and all the other parts of the journey along the way. Those are the True gifts and the Good things about Christmas. Perhaps those are the True gifts and Good things about a life that pursues God as Father, Lord, and King.

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