‘Tis the season for questions and controversies. Yesterday we talked with a historian about the historical debate over whether or not Herod the Great really did slaughter all the baby boys in Bethlehem, or whether the story is Nativity fiction. Today we talk about a cultural debate over Santa Claus.
Of course this is the season for Santa Claus questions here at Ask Pastor John. We have over 50 questions on this topic. Now of course, Pastor John, as you know, there’s a fourth century Greek historical figure named Saint Nicholas. But most of the questions (I think all the questions) that we have received are about the mythical, white bearded, red suited, reindeer flying Santa Claus — that one. Corbin from Gainesville, Georgia, writes in to ask: “Pastor John, should parents allow their children to believe Santa Claus is bringing them gifts on Christmas?” Cut it straight, Pastor John. What would you say about Santa?
After Easter, Christmas should be the happiest day of the year in Christian worship. The reason I say “after Easter” is that Good Friday and Easter is the goal of Christmas. The death and resurrection, the salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is the goal of Christmas. Christmas is not the goal of Easter. Christmas is a means. The salvation of sinners on Good Friday and Easter is the goal.
Jesus came at Christmas to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus came at Christmas to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus came at Christmas to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus came at Christmas not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13). Jesus came at Christmas to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Jesus came at Christmas that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).
So the birth of the Son of God, the very God, very man, is simply stunning and glorious and infinitely serious — an overflow of the happy news. The angel called it “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) — great joy, not small joy; not a little bit of joy, but great joy.
My question is this: How could we possibly even think of giving our children a bowl of bland, sugarless porridge when they are offered the greatest meal in the world? Why would we give them Santa Claus when they can have the incarnation of the Son of God? It is just mind boggling to me that any Christian would even contemplate such a trade — that we would divert attention away from the incarnation of the God of the universe into this world to save us and our children. I scarcely have words for it that people would contemplate this. Not only is Santa Claus not true and Jesus is very truth himself, but compared to Jesus, Santa is simply pitiful and our kids should be helped to see this.
Santa Claus offers only earthly things, nothing lasting, nothing eternal. Jesus offers eternal joy with the world thrown in. Yeah, the fire engine is thrown in.
Santa Claus offers his ephemeral goodies only on the condition of good works. He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you are awake. He knows when you have been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake. That is a pure works-religion. And Jesus offers himself all the gifts freely by grace through faith.
Santa Claus is make-believe. Jesus is more real than the roof on your house.
Santa Claus only shows up once a year. Jesus promises, “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20). You say to your kid every night: He is standing by your bed. He is with you when you get up in the morning. He is with you when you go to school today. If mommy and daddy die, he will be right there with you. Santa doesn’t hold a candle to this flame: Jesus.
Santa Claus cannot solve our worst problem, and Jesus did solve our worst problem — our sin and our alienation from God. Santa Claus can put some icing on the cake of the good life, but he cannot take a shattered life and rebuild it with hope forever. And our kids need to know that about Christmas.
Santa Claus is not relevant in many cultures of the world. And Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and all the peoples of the world.
Santa Claus will be forgotten some day, and Jesus will be the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
So Tony, there is no contest here. I cannot see why a parent — if they know and love Jesus, if they have found Jesus to be the greatest treasure in the world — why they would bring Jesus out of the celebration and Santa into the celebration at all. He is just irrelevant. He has nothing to do with it. He is zero.
My counsel is to give all your efforts to making your children as happy as they can possibly be with every kind of surprise that is rooted in the true meaning of Christmas. Let your decorations point to Jesus. Let your food point to Jesus. Let your games point to Jesus. Let your singing point to Jesus. Out-rejoice the world. Out-give the world. Out-decorate the world, and let it all point to Jesus. And if being Jesus-focused is a killjoy for your Christmas, you don’t know him well.