Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 12 November 2017

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:35.

Giving makes us better people.  Churches that ask for tithes know this.   Your manager at work knows this.  Political campaigns know this (ok, maybe not so much).   Your teenage kids know this (ok, not so much again, though we hope they’ll learn it).

In 21st century America, the most popular symbol of Christmas is Santa.   He’s at the center of what we consider Christmas to be.  But when you scratch off the red velvet and ring the jingle bells you see that the center of Santa is Christ.   It’s impossible to reach any other conclusion without rejecting the words here in Acts 20.  Whether the inspiration is Coca Cola, Hollywood, or pop culture, our notion of Santa Claus always goes back to Saint Nicholas of Myra, the bishop of Myra (in Turkey) who lived from 270 to 343 AD:   only about 240 years after the life of Jesus.  According to Wikipedia, Nicholas is the patron saint of many tradesmen, and his life spanned persecution and torture by the Romans, pardon from the Emperor Constantine (who split the Roman empire) and sitting in the council of Nicaea (in which the early church was reorganized and from which we received the Nicene Creed).

But his greatest gift was in giving.  A most likely true legend has it that Nicholas gave a bag of gold to each of a poor man’s three daughters because the father was too poor to afford a dowry.  Some versions of the legend have him throwing the coins through a window, others down a chimney and landing in stockings.   No matter how it happened, over time this morphed into the concept of Santa Claus that we know today.   In the 1800 years since Nicholas died, his tradition has been compounded with that of Father Christmas (dating the Tudor England of the 1500s), practices of Martin Luther (to focus kids on Christ instead of Saint Nicholas), Sinterklaas and Pere Noel in Europe, and Scandanavian Yule traditions.   Here in America, Clement Moore’s famous poem from the 1820s popularized the idea of Santa as did advertising pictures from Harper’s Bazaar and Coca Cola in the late 19th century.   And don’t forget the popular editorial response which said “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Giving is the glue that binds together those representations of Santa; self-less giving to children and the poor.  All along the timeline from Saint Nicholas until today the saint of Christmas gives to those who have not.   He blesses others by giving to them things they want and need.   In doing so, what he’s really doing is giving them the love of Jesus.   He inculcates a gift to a stranger with the strange gift that God gave us.   You and I don’t deserve grace any more than a child ‘deserves’ an extravagant gift under the tree.   We don’t earn gifts but God gives them anyway.   We weren’t looking for the Christ child in Bethlehem but He came there anyway and the angels then sang of His glory.

Without the spirit of Jesus, there is no giving.   Our very concept of Santa is thick with giving and, therefore, replete with Jesus.

Giving makes we better people because it puts aside ourselves.   Gifts are acts of mercy to other people, reflections of what we believe.   To give to someone with no expectation of anything in return is righteous, it is Christ-like.  To give is to share God’s grace.  Nicholas of Myra understood that when he gave gold to women who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to marry (something that would likely have resulted in their resorting to prostitution).   If you separated the concept of Santa Claus from giving, you wouldn’t have Santa anymore.  You wouldn’t even have a good advertising gimmick.  Santa gives to share, to make others better, to give things they wouldn’t otherwise have.  If the center of today’s celebrations is Santa, then the center of Santa selfless giving.   You can’t give selflessly without first having the love of Jesus in your heart.   Apart from Him we can do nothing.   Therefore, apart from Jesus, Santa could give nothing.  s The next time you get down about how commercialism is ruining Christmas, remember that the spirit of Christmas is still Santa and still, therefore, all about Jesus.

For further reading:  Luke 6:38.

Lord, thank You for how giving makes us better people.   Thank You for giving us this gift of mercy, of sharing, of Your Spirit.

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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.