As I thought about these issues, I started comparing the two most popular figures at Christmas – Jesus and Santa Claus. There are some distinct, and in my opinion, telling differences in their stories that help us get to the heart of Christmas.
First, let’s start with Santa Claus. He is Chief Gifting Officer of Christmas. His legend explains that he spends the year watching all the boys and girls (and presumably adults, too – no mention is made of when one outgrows Santa’s watchful eye), judging each child based on their behavior during the year.
If one acts “nice” enough during the year, one is rewarded with wonderful Christmas gifts. If, however, one is not nice enough, then one is doomed to the naughty list, with no presents to arrive on the special day. The naughty child gets a chance the following year to do better to make the nice list.
The big problem with Santa’s method is nowhere is there a reliable definition of what constitutes naughty or nice. How nice is nice enough? Does one earn naughty status based on strict criteria, or does one have to fear the ramifications if Santa’s in a bad mood because the elves are behind schedule?
The result is a confused generation of children, hoping to escape the naughty list with no real idea of how to do that. And based on the number of kids who ultimately receive presents, one may think that Santa’s definition of nice is quite generous, indeed.
Then there’s Jesus. The humble baby in a manger, and yet Son of God, whose gift to the world is not a shiny new toy, but the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Heaven. Jesus’ standards for naughty and nice are quite clear – The Ten Commandments. Ten rules, simple enough for a child to understand, yet impossible for any human to obey.
For example, the 9th Commandment is not to bear false witness – in other words, don’t lie. Have you ever told a lie? Ever? Even a white one? A person who has told any lie is a liar, has broken the 9th Commandment, and is therefore on Jesus naughty list – in more correct language, separated from God.
The 7th Commandment is not to commit adultery. Jesus taught that if one even looks at a woman with lust, he has committed adultery with her in his heart. Have you ever looked at a woman with lust? Then, according to God’s standard, you are an adulterer, and again, separated from God.
So, as compared with Santa, Jesus’ standards are very clear. And as one examines each Commandment, one will find that we have all fallen short, violated a commandment here or there. The result is separation from God, who can tolerate no sin. God’s “naughty list” has big consequences – a life of discontent, frustration, and lack of fulfillment, and an eternity of torment in hell.
But the good news of Jesus is that we all have a way to get off of God’s naughty list. No matter what one has done, one can be restored in relationship with God simply by believing in and accepting God’s gift of grace. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by dying on the cross, and once we accept him as Lord and Savior in faith, we are fully restored. No trying again next year, no earning it based on our performance, but complete salvation through faith in Christ.
So, who do you worship at Christmas? A gift giver with arbitrary rules and judgments, who spoils with gifts even those who have been somewhat naughty? Who has no concrete standard and no discipline, leaving you confused and wandering?
Or do you worship the one who sets the ultimate standard? Whose judgment and discipline are equal and fair to all? The one who rewards even the worst of us through His love, and whose gift can never be taken, never spoil, never break down? The one who offers you freedom in this life and eternal life in heaven. This Christmas, worship the truth in Christ.