From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor’s Study
Dec 21, 2022
A new Christmas tradition is sweeping across the land. “Elf on the Shelf” was “invented” in 2005 by a mother and her two daughters and has since become a most popular past time for many families. The idea is this: Santa has elves who work for him in his workshop, making toys for good little girls and boys. Apparently, Santa has more elves than he needs to make toys, so he sends the surplus elves into the homes of children around the world to spy on those children to see if they are being naughty or nice. Each evening the elves fly back to Santa and report what they saw, and then, the next morning, they return to the house, finding a different place to hide so that they can spend another day of spying on the children. I’m sure it’s lots of fun for the children to discover each morning where the peeping elf is hiding. It’s probably less fun when they figure out that the spying could result in Santa skipping their house on Christmas Eve.
I have often wondered how Santa gathered his information, and now we know. The elf that hides in people’s homes tells him. Santa has a reliable way to divvy up the toys. More importantly, parents have a great way to coerce their children to behave in the busy days leading up to Christmas. Engendering fear in children by making threats about the possibility of Santa’s disapproval is a great way to keep children in line. I’m guessing that the mother who created the elf on the shelf had some troubles finding ways to discipline her two little darlings. I could be wrong on that.
Santa Claus theology. For some reason people love it. They seem to love the idea that there is a short fat old man spying on their children so that he can determine whether they get a lump of coal or the latest toy. Parents love the few weeks of reprieve that comes from frightened children being helpful and nice. This kind of theology fits nicely into way we think about how this world should work.
Unfortunately, there is not much grace in Santa Claus theology. Santa Claus, who happens be an aberration of a really nice man we remember as known as Saint Nicholas and who truly care for others, rewards only those who deserve it. If someone doesn’t deserve a reward, they don’t get a reward. And that seems fair, doesn’t it? We don’t want people getting what they don’t deserve. That leads to too much welfare and dependence on handouts. It’s better if people work, isn’t it? As we think about it, it seems that our government should be a little more like Santa Claus, shouldn’t it? Too many people are getting too many handouts, and they don’t deserve it.
But Santa Claus theology is not biblical theology. Or, to put it another way, God is not like Santa Claus. If God rewarded us as we deserved, we would all be in pretty big trouble. God, who is all-seeing and all-knowing, doesn’t need to send an elf to our living rooms and bedrooms and basements to see if we are behaving. He knows already, and he knows that quite often we are not. God sees us when we’re sleeping. He knows when we’re awake. He knows when we’ve been bad or good, and for goodness’ sake we haven’t been all that good all the time. He sees what is on our screens. He knows our secret thoughts. He watches us interact with others, often in selfish and uncaring ways. If he gave toys to those who deserved it, many of us are well aware that we wouldn’t even deserve a lump of coal to throw on the fire so we could keep warm for a few more minutes.
God is not like Santa Claus, and for that we can be thankful. God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103), but, rather, he is a gracious and compassionate God, forgiving us when we sin and rewarding us when we don’t deserve it. He gave us Jesus Christ, his Son, to be born into this world and to die on the cross for our sins. We receive eternal life, if we put our faith in Jesus Christ. That is grace. Grace happens when we get what we don’t deserve; we get a gift when we have done nothing to earn it. God is a God of grace; Santa Claus doesn’t seem to know what grace is.
For some reason, and it is beyond me to understand why, people tend to prefer Santa Claus over Jesus. For some reason they are willing to trust a voyeuristic fat little man who rewards only those who are nice with a little toy rather than trusting the Son of God who became a human being to give his life for us so that we can experience all of God’s blessings. It’s really beyond my understanding how people would rather talk about Santa Claus rather than Jesus.
Santa Claus is not a jolly old elf, although we are told that he is. And the elf on the shelf is not such a nice thing to have in your house. I am thankful that I know God’s grace. I am thankful for Jesus who died for our sins so that we can receive God’s blessings even when we are less than perfect.
Of course, Christian theology eliminates the coercion that is possible if we have a theology that if we misbehave, we won’t be rewarded. Coercing our children and each other to be nice is not the Christian way. Rather, we behave, not because we are afraid of God’s displeasure but because we respond with thankfulness that he has been so kind to us. When we know God’s grace, we love him in return. Perfect love, God’s love, drives out fear. Santa Claus theology is designed to make us afraid. Jesus is better than Santa.