Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 18 December 2017

…if it is giving, then give generously.   Romans 12:8.

Let’s talk about the gift of the magi, but not the wonderful O Henry story.

Yesterday I was reading a bit in Matthew 2, the book & chapter that discusses the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus.   You know the account.   Wise men from east of Israel showed up in Bethlehem, looking for the Christ child.   They were (presumably) astrologer ‘kings’ who saw a special star that they believed would lead them to the Messiah; Martin Luther thought they might have been learned men, perhaps professors even.  We don’t know when they showed up, though scholars today (supposedly wise men themselves) seem to think it was while Jesus was a toddler.   That would mean Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived in Bethlehem for a good long time after the Roman census was complete.   In the end, we don’t truly know.  The wise men presented three gifts we know of, though to be honest we don’t know if there were only three gifts.   We also don’t know if there were only three wise men.  Tradition has assigned them names of Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar (of Arabia, Persia, and India respectively), but we don’t specifically know that to be true, either.

What we do know is that the magi gave generously.   The gifts they brought – gold, frankincense and myrrh – wouldn’t have been given to commoners in first century Judea.   They weren’t things that common Jewish children received at birth.   If kids of that time received anything, it probably wouldn’t have been those gifts because they were extraordinarily expensive and usually given only to wealthy or royal people.   The makeup of the gifts themselves only adds mystery to the story.  Years ago I heard a sermon where the minister wondered if Mary didn’t keep the three precious birth gifts from the magi to use in embalming and burying Jesus, especially given that myrrh and frankincense were used for embalming in Bible times.   I suppose that’s possible.

Flash forward to Santa.   Santa’s gift-giving reflects that of the magi.   There’s no set rule saying Santa brings you only one toy; that, too, is open to tradition.  He might bring you one, two or three.   He might even bring you gold, frankincense, and myrrh, though I’m not sure those would compete well against a PS4 in today’s world.  But the comparison still remains:   the story of Santa is one of giving generously.   Santa gives out of an abundance of the desire to give, to share agape love with total strangers and innocent children.   Santa goes to whatever extremes are necessary to get you the gift you desire just to make your life a little brighter.   It’s because of a Christ-like heart that someone gives generously.

My wife has over 30 nativity scenes in her collection.  I think she loves the story of the magi even more than the story of the immaculate birth because of the wonder of three learned men from far away lands showing up to worship this holy child.   The glitterati of the day saw something unusual in that star that they considered to be a miracle.   They saw and they believed.  This same wife of mine also still believes in Santa.   It’s a game we play in our family.   Say you believe in Santa and you get a cool gift from Mom and Dad (even though our children are grown and gone).   Say you don’t believe and those gifts stop.  Saying you don’t believe would be evidence of a generous heart growing cold, of starting to lose sight of the miracle that is Christmas.   Saying you don’t believe in Santa is like saying you don’t believe in giving generously.  Or in the gift of the magi.

For further reading: Deuteronomy 26:11, Matthew 2.

Lord, I believe in You.   I believe in Your gift of giving generously.   I praise You for the story of the Magi, and for inspiring a spirit of giving in the story of Santa and in each of us.

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 15 December 2017

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8:32.

This is a message that is easily lost when you think of Santa.   In fact, I suspect it’s part of the reason – maybe even THE reason – why so many followers of Jesus actively, vociferously disdain all things Santa.   Santa can’t save you from your sins but Jesus does.   Santa can’t give you all things your heart really desires but Jesus does.   Santa can’t this, Santa can’t this, but Jesus does.   All true, all like a boring confirmation class quiz.  I get it.

So don’t lose the message of Romans 8 when you’re busy defending Jesus, ok?   I get the idea of defending Christmas, of defending Jesus.   Are we really so arrogant to think God can’t defend Himself without our help?  It might be a noble thing, especially since the idea of Christmas as the birth of Christ is under attack in our age of Muslimism and atheism.  But we lose sight of God’s giving when we get busy defending our positions.   How about we step back a bit and look for some common ground?

What He gave still matters.   What Santa gives reflects that.

We’ve talked about how giving is Christ-like, how Christ-like giving is the foundation of the idea of Santa Claus.  But have you considered the gift itself?   The character we know as Santa exhibits the best of Jesus’ attitude, namely to give glory to God by expressing agape love, of showing love to someone who doesn’t deserve it by giving them something from yourself.   That attitude, that giving heart, is central to Jesus’ character as well.  But the gift matters too.   What you are given can matter as much as the heart of the person giving it.

Consider this:  kids go to see Santa, or write letters to Santa, telling him what they most want.   They reveal their most urgent material desires to him.   The story of Santa, then, is how Santa fulfills those most urgent requests for the good little girls and boys by bringing them things they want most.   Winner winner chicken dinner.

Consider this as well:  people pray to Jesus their innermost thoughts about their most urgent desires.   We express our groaning to Him about things that matter most to us.  We give our requests to Him, and sometimes those requests are even self-less.   But Jesus always answers them, even when we don’t understand the answer.   And in addition to that, God then gives us a redemption that only He can give.   He gives us eternal life with Himself.  That gift matters most.  He promises it to us, and His promise is always sure, always reliable, always true.   He proved it by promising to redeem us, then giving us the life blood of His most precious being, His Son, to secure it.   He did it for us, not because He had to.   God the Father and Spirit gave His Son to us because He wanted to, because He could.   He did it because He loved us unconditionally.   Love for love’s sake, giving because of love’s sake, the gift of Jesus Himself.   The ultimate Christmas gift.   His gift brings peace on earth and good will to men.

Every gift given since then, whether gifts of the Magi or gifts from Santa’s workshop, is a reflection of God’s gift to us.   THAT gift matters most because eternity always matters most.   No matter what else Santa brings you this year, when you realize God gave you this, you realize you’ve gotten more than you could honestly want.   Don’t ever lose sight of that.

For further reading: Romans 12:8.

My Lord, thank You for the gift of Your Son.   Of the idea of Santa who reflects Your wonderful gift.

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.