Practical Proverbial, Santa Claus the Cheerful Giver, 11 December 2017

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Corinthians 9:7.

Let’s take a few days away from breaking down the Bible verse by verse.   Since it’s Christmastime, let’s talk about Santa.   You see, I believe in Santa Claus.

It’s a running joke in our family that my wife is an elf.   Or at least part elf.   Her Godly love language is acts of service and it is innate to her very being that she loves to serve others, mainly by giving.   It’s not the gift that matters but making someone else’s life a little better that matters most to her.   If she has pointy ears and hails from the North Pole then I haven’t seen it.   But if Hollywood is ever looking for someone who I think could have worked for Santa, look no further than my home.   If you ask Hunnie, she’ll eagerly respond that she, too, believes in Santa.

Now, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re probably familiar with the annual “Jesus versus Santa” debate.   You’ve seen the signs saying “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   For a long time I was one of the people exercised about the idea of of Santa Claus crowding out the reality of Jesus.   Santa seemed so secular, an Easter Bunny in a fluffy red hat.  The magic of a fat Norseman slinking down a chimney to give away gifts seemed like a sweetly ominous distraction from the godhead becoming one with His creation to give us the gift of eternal love.   I get it; I accept it, too.  For years it created conflict in me, wanting to be a true believer in Jesus but not wanting to completely reject the mostly harmless concept of Santa.  I mean, in our society, what kind of monster could reject Saint Nick, the venerated gift-giver to good little girls and boys?

Not this one.   Yes, I’m a dirty sinner (like you, even like the real Saint Nicholas of Myra), but I came to the point of thinking there is no conflict, there is no harm, there’s no sin in believing in Santa.   I won’t even offer the cautionary aside of reminding you of the differences between Jesus and Santa; I believe you get those on your own.    Instead, if it is wrong to believe in Santa, explain to me how 2 Corinthians 9:7 lines up with the idea of Santa.  The story of Santa Claus is inseparable from the idea of cheerful giving.   And the notion of being a cheerful giver is inseparable from 2 Corinthians 9:7.   God is all about giving us gifts because He does it every day.   He gives us the ultimate gift of free life symbolized by His incarnation in Bethlehem.  He gives us the gift through the idea of sharing that loving life through the concept of a jolly old man wanting to simply love on perfect strangers.

Sure, Santa wasn’t a real person whereas Jesus Christ is.   We’ll discuss the aforementioned Saint Nicholas later.  But God’s love is real whether someone is fiction or not.  God’s love simply is, and God loves a cheerful giver.   If Santa was a real person, God would love him for being that cheerful giver.  Our world could use some more of that, so maybe sharing a little cheerfully giving Santa love is really sharing the true love of Jesus.   I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from that.

We own a Christmas ornament (and an accompanying children’s book) showing Santa kneeling in praise at the manger of Jesus.   I think that fits.   I think the story of Santa complements the history of Jesus.  To people who reject that, well, God bless you.  On this we believe different things.   And if you’re like me and you still believe, then God bless you, too, this Christmas season.   Ho, ho, ho and merry Christmas whether you believe in Santa or not.  If you’re nice, my Hunnie might just send you a gift.

For further reading:  Acts 20:35.

Lord, thank You for the story of Santa Claus.   Let this popular fable be a way we can give you praise and glory.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 November 2016

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4, verse 15.

One of the qualities I love most about my Savior is that He’s like me.   He has been tempted in every way and yet He overcame those temptations.   I haven’t; I’ve fallen; I’ve been tempted and I have given in over and over and over again.   Yet I’m like Him and He’s like me.  He had real flesh, real skin, real blood, real pain, real joy.   Jesus spent most of His life working as a carpenter’s son (or some kind of tradesman) in Nazareth.   Do you think He ever whacked His thumb with a hammer?   I’m betting He did and I’m betting it hurt just as much as when you or I do it.   It isn’t a sin to yell “ow!” when something hurts you.  When Jesus saw a pretty woman, I’m betting He said to Himself “she’s beautiful” and He meant it.   When Jesus was sad, say when Joseph died or something bad happened to someone He knew, He was genuinely sad.   Sure, He knew that person’s fate and He understood the real differences between the temporal pleasure of life here and the eternal peace of living forever in heaven.   Yet He also really, truly grieved when people endured things like suffering, death and sorrow.  And have you ever considered that Jesus probably laughed at jokes, too?

These are all things with which you and I can identify.   They mean Jesus is like us in every way as a human being.   How amazing is it that He put off His God qualities to experience life the same way we do.   He creates life, then comes to live one just like ours in every way save one:   He never sinned.   The small and big things we think, say and do that trip us up in front of His Spirit and His Father:   Jesus never once did them.   Over and over throughout history He had commanded humanity to “be perfect.”   Have you ever considered how this actually means we could be?   Yes, that perfection eludes us because of sin and our sinful nature, yet Jesus Himself commanded us to be perfect.   He commanded us to do something He knows we can do…yet we don’t.   We don’t because we choose not to.   We choose sin, even when it doesn’t seem very fair.  And yet He still put off that eternal God quality of His and chose to come here to live as one of us anyway.   I like to think that there’s a mountaintop someplace where I could sit and comprehend that very idea for the rest of my life here.

Yet all that navel-gazing can’t walk away from a very simple, stark fact that (literally) makes all of the difference in the world.  Part of that “He’s like me” quality is what is mentioned in 2 Corinthians.  In being fully man and fully tempted, God Almighty took all those sins that Jesus resisted and put them on Him anyway.   Think about it:   the man spent His entire life resisting even the smallest temptation and yet God stuck Him with the sins anyway.   Jesus didn’t deserve it.   He kept the Divine command perfectly and yet the Divine punished Him anyway.   Why?   You know why:  because it had to happen if humanity would have any hope, any eternal promise, of standing blameless in front of its Creator.

Astounding.

Much of the book of Hebrews – including today’s verse – is also spent describing Jesus as a great high priest.  The priests of antiquity weren’t any better than the priests or pastors of today.   They’re flawed sinful men just like anyone else, yet they’re chosen to minister to God’s people.   It must be hard to be a pastor; I am friends with many priests and pastors and I admire their tenacity in trying so hard to live more moral lives than average guys like me.   They do it to uphold the highest standard of representing God.   Yet they’re still just men.   They fail and fall like anyone else.   Pastors and priests need a savior too.

And they have one:   the truest high priest of all.   Jesus came to not just lead His church but to actively minister to it.   To care for it, to build it up, to rebuke it when necessary and to spread His love through it to people who desperately search for real love and real meaning.  That truest priest of all was fully God and fully man all at the same time in a mystery we can only slightly comprehend.  Yet, way back when, He was down in the dirt with people who couldn’t pull themselves out of it.   Majestic, holy and Lord of all today, He still is.   Our Savior high priest is still right here with us, in the toughest of struggles and the highest of highs.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:17-18, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Lord Jesus, all praise be to You for being our Savior, for being man and God, and for all the love You spread in Your ministry here and from eternity.