Jesus is not Santa. Santa is not Jesus. I know, I know, I sit on a throne of lies. Just because we celebrate Jesus’ birthday by having a magic elf deliver presents doesn’t mean they have anything to do with one another. Somewhere people get them confused and try to operate as if Jesus was Santa.
Let me point out how.
Here are the lyrics to the chorus of a popular Christmas song written in the 1930’s. It was written for children but took on a life of its own as the Great Depression gripped America.
You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is comin' to town
Okay, this is super creepy. Watch out because the magic elf is coming. Crying is not allowed. If you cry, he can hear you. When he breaks into your home there is no telling what he might do. Pouting is a no-no as well. Get it kids, no crying or pouting.
He's making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice
This magic elf is writing down all the stuff you do. He keeps a record of the good and the bad. Apparently, this is an effort to see if you deserve good stuff or bad. One can only assume if you get coal in your stocking you are a bad person or that you did more naughty things than nice. How you define those only the magic elf knows.
It gets even worse.
He knows when you are sleeping,
he knows when you are awake.
This guy keeps a tab on your consciousness. You better watch out. He’s there even in your sleep and he is coming!
Santa Claus and his mythology have an interesting past. St. Nicholas, a Turkish bishop, has merged with Father Christmas, Dutch, and German traditions as well as poetry and the Coca-Cola marketing machine to provide the framework we understand in North America today. Movies depicting variations on one or more of these figures help the mosaic take shape. This Santa becomes something more than what was originally intended as he hangs out with polar bears and rings bells in front of stores.
This happens to Jesus as well.
Now we have the 8 pounds 6 ounce Jesus of Talladega nights. We have the Jesus who was never mean and always loving (read the names he calls people in the Gospels!). There is the Jesus who simply weighs the good we do and the bad and heaven forbid the bad out-weigh the good, he jumps on the scale and tips it to the good. Or, we have the Jesus who has been reduced to myth as if he never existed. Each of these versions skirts the real issue. Jesus isn’t who we want him to be.
We make him into Santa. He is everywhere, knows when you are sleeping or awake, knows if you are good or bad, he counts our “sins” and he is coming! Be good! And in the end, you never get coal in your stocking and Jesus would never do anything bad to you so it’s all good.
This hollow form of Jesus leaves us with nothing more than sentiment and irrelevance. Gone is the kingdom-shaking, subversive, government threatening, religious leader condemning, grace giving, sacrifice offering, turning the culture on its ear, life-giving, shattering the gates of hell, sin, and death Jesus.
The Jesus described above is what Christmas is about, not what it has become. Just because our culture wants to remove the deep meaning behind “God with us” doesn’t mean that has actually happened. Culture has no power to do that. Christmas is an invitation to allow Jesus to come to you as He is, not as you think of him. It is an invitation to encounter Jesus anew, the kingdom-shaking, subversive, government threatening, religious leader condemning, grace giving, sacrifice offering, turning the culture on its ear, life-giving, shattering the gates of hell, sin, and death Jesus.
If you do, I promise you will never confuse Jesus and Santa again.