I got a beef with the Claus.
Let me be clear. I am not necessarily anti-Santa. At least, not in the traditional sense. The big guy gets a bad wrap for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is his alleged connections with pagan traditions. I'm not here to fight about whether the charges are true. He's a grown man and can hire his own lawyer. And may I say it's a real shame to have a moniker whose letters can be rearranged to spell "Satan" (I should know, with a last name that endorses pork consumption). It's also not fair for me to write Santa off since there are probably plenty of God fearing families out there who have found a way to redeem the use of him in their Christmas traditions (see my Halloween blog). So I am not necessarily anti-Santa. I'm just pro-gospel.
The more I've thought about it, the more I'm concerned that the Santa message is at odds with the gospel message. To be sure, Santa has a gospel. It's heralded every year in the media, in children's literature and even our own living rooms. This is a big deal to me. As a parent it's my chief concern that the good news of salvation find few road blocks on it's way to my daughters' hearts. So if anything in our home muddies, confuses or contradicts it, the gloves come off. What's the Santa "gospel"? Moralism. Essentially Santa teaches us a performance-based righteousness, that right moral behavior is the key to acceptance, reward and happiness. This is a deviation from the Christian faith, which is not built on the back of our labor, but Christ's labor on our behalf. Don't write me off as a kill-joy or nitpicker till you hear me out. Below are some examples of how the Christian gospel and the Santa gospel diverge.
Santa Claus: If you do good, you get rewarded.
Jesus Christ: You can't do good, but because I did you get rewarded.
Santa: If you do bad, you're punished with coal.
Jesus: You did do bad, but I took the "coal" of God's wrath for you on the cross.
Santa: I'm constantly watching you to judge your performance.
Jesus: Because of my perfect performance, you never have to worry if you're on the naughty list.
Santa: Behave so you can sleep peacefully knowing your reward on Christmas is secure.
Jesus: Because you're accepted, you can now obey out of gratitude, not guilt.
At this point you may object and say something like, "You're taking things too far. No decent parent gives their kid coal, no matter how bad they are. Isn't that a picture of grace?" To this I say yes, it is a picture of grace, just not gospel-grace. Gospel-grace cost Jesus His life in order to secure our pardon. Santa-grace pardons without payment. It's the same as saying to a child, "it doesn't really matter what you do, you'll always be let off the hook in the end, lil buddy!" The truth is our actions do have consequences. Eternal consequences. And God in His mercy sent Jesus to take those consequences on himself so we could receive the reward of life with Him. Any ethical view that doesn't have this Truth at it's core competes against the gospel of Jesus.
So as my kids begin to age into the Santa years, we are beginning new traditions from those of our parents. We're allowing the gospel room to be glorious without competitors. We are not snubbing our nose at Jolly Ol' Saint Nicholas, we're just choosing the better news for our children to hear. You deserved nothing but coal, but God loved you so much that at His own expense He gave you the greatest gift of all, Himself.