Saturday, 25 December 2010

Santa Claus Theology.

A celebration of coming

“You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town”

You can tell its Christmas when that song starts blaring from every shop you pass. Well, you can tell it will be Christmas soon anyway. Well, within the next month at least. Or two…

Wait though, Santa Claus is coming?  Is that what Christmas is all about?  Or is it about God? God, who came as a child in a dingy stable, lived and died on a cruel cross and rose again for our salvation.  Or a jolly fat man with a few reindeer and some singing elves?  Don’t get me wrong, Santa, presents, trees, lights, reindeer – it’s all brilliant, Christmas is great.  But so many of our problems are caused when we mix up God and Santa Claus – and not just at Christmas, but throughout our lives.

You see there are two dangerous ways in which we mix up God and Santa Claus.  Firstly, we make Santa – all he brings and represents – into God, and secondly, we make God into Santa Claus.

Santa Claus is not God

Money, possessions, presents.  These are all wonderful things but so often we make them more important than they are.  We turn them into Gods without even realising we’re doing it – tell anyone that they worship money, or Santa, and they’ll probably laugh at you.  The problem is that whenever we look to something outside of God to save us, to give us happiness, we begin to erect an altar to it in our hearts.  We sacrifice things to it, or for it.  Whatever it is, it becomes far too important to us, it becomes our life and our driving goal.  Whenever something stands between us and God we have a serious problem.  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Matthew 5:30

Strong words, but necessary – we must not allow our love of money to overcome our love of God.  As Switchfoot ask in their song ‘Company Car’:

“Have I won monopoly to forfeit my soul?”

You could have the world, but what good is it without God?  Don’t make Santa Claus into your God.

“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Revelation 3:17

God is not Santa Claus

This second problem harks back to the song quoted at the beginning:

“He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice”

You better watch out! When Santa is around you better be good.  If you’re not, you’ll be punished – you certainly won’t get anything good from him.  Better be ready to earn those presents boys and girls because if there’s one thing Santa Claus does not believe in, it’s grace.

God does. God believes in grace.  That fact ought to make us weep with joy, and yet shake with fear.  Joy! Because we can be free, we don’t have to buy our way to God. Fear! Because we insist on trying to earn it ourselves and that pours mockery on God’s goodness and kindness and love.

Grace is not one of the important issues for a Christian to ponder.  No.  Grace is the issue. It is the one thing that sets the Christian message apart, the one thing you need to be saved.  “Repent and believe!” the Bible says and God will deliver you.  He will forgive those who repent – but if you don’t have grace, how can you possibly repent?  If you’re trying to earn your salvation through your good works then you’ve not grasped how much you need saved.  Grace is the centre and heart of our faith.

God is not Santa.  Whether people think you’re “naughty or nice” or just something in between is completely irrelevant to him.  There are only two types of people to God.  Sinners and Jesus.  If you are in Him, then you are God, your salvation is free and certain.

When you have a measure of spirituality without grace, you get left with cold, empty religion.  All that that leads to is hypocrisy, pride and despair.  Religion isn’t good enough for God, and it isn’t enough for us.  The Pharisees were the most fervently religious people of their day and look what Jesus had to say about them:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Matthew 23:27-28

The Pharisees were wonderful; they were great teachers and leaders. They were the epitome of religious dedication. They were great.  Oh and they crucified God. That’s not so good.  The thing they’d missed was grace. God’s free gift.  They’d turned God into Santa Claus, centuries before Santa even existed.  They were determined to earn their way to God and determined to make God owe them something.  Contrast this picture with that of the thief on the cross.  A broken man.  A criminal.  The lowest of the low.  Everyone admired the Pharisees and their Santa Theology, everybody but Jesus.  Nobody loved the thief, nobody but Jesus.  Contrast now their reception before God, the answer to their lives that Jesus gives them:

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
Matthew 23:33

“And he [Jesus] said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." ”
Luke 23:43

Grace saves. Religion doesn’t.  And that is why Santa Claus theology is so dangerous, so poisonous to our walk with God.  But why? Why do we give up this beautiful doctrine of love and sacrifice, and replace it with a broken lie of works and a cruel, demanding God?

Two problems that cause each other

We’ve made Santa our God – chasing after money and wealth, viewing ourselves as great and God as small.
We’ve made God a Santa figure – a God who views us in the light of our deeds, who demands that we earn our own way and pay him back.

In short, we don’t like grace simply because it leaves us with nothing.  We give nothing to God. We are nobody.  God has paid our debt, “by his wounds we are healed” – there is nothing we can add to that and don’t we just hate it.  Our grand view of our own self importance, our desire to prove ourselves, earn our own way and be able to hold God in our debt has corrupted our view of grace.  Our feeble view of grace has led us to believe that God demands payment.
Our view of Santa as God makes us see God as Santa. Our view of God as Santa makes us revere Santa and what he stands for as God.  When salvation becomes all about earning, all about us, materialism and despair are not far behind.
We hate grace because, as Switchfoot said:

“In the economy of mercy
I am a poor and begging man”

We don’t like to be poor.  Being poor is losing when Santa reigns.

God’s remedy for our mistakes

God has an answer to our problem.  It’s Grace.  Grace is God’s salvation song.  Look to Jesus, look to the cross.  See him there, hanging in agony for your sin.  Freely and without cost.  And don’t you dare try and earn your salvation.  Can you add to that sacrifice? Can you, by offering your seat to the elderly, paying a fraction of your money to the church, can you possibly add to that?  Can you add to the death of God by being a bit nicer and going to church?  Can you top God’s sacrifice with a bit of prayer and a Bible reading?  No you can’t.  And that, that is the beauty and the wonder of God’s grace.  A salvation that is firm.  And yet a salvation that is completely, and utterly free.
Look to Jesus, look to his throne.  See him there, ruling and reigning in love.  He died for you my friend.  He died for me. How can we replace that majesty, that love, that sacrifice with money, presents and exotic holidays?  Grace is free, but if grace is true we must respond in love.  Love not for money, but for him who died.  “There is a higher throne.  Than all this world has known” – Bow before that throne, don’t worship Santa Claus.

Get your theology straightened out.  Ours is a theology of grace.  Not a theology of Santa Claus.

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind but now I see.”

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9

<<Grace is a pretty big topic. My thanks to Andrew Randall who inspired me to dwell on it more, and who gave me the term ‘Santa Clause Theology’ to describe a life without it.  One day I’ll write more on it, but if there’s ever an ‘assistant pig-keeper topic’ then this is it.  Woefully unprepared for writing on this, but by God’s grace may I speak the truth, with clarity, in love.  If I can improve, do tell me – the comment box is there for a reason.

Oh, and Merry Christmas everyone. Merry Christmas indeed.>>

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