Christmas season presents a unique time to nudge our children into believing in the unbelievable.
Many parents choose to add Santa Claus into the tradition of Christmas. At a young age, children are delighted to discover that the gifts beneath the tree were mysteriously delivered by a magical man who descended their chimney. Parents have to invest a fair amount of time and effort in telling the story, creating the pageantry, and establishing the circumstances to make Santa Claus believable to their posterity. After all, the story of Santa is fairly outrageous and so it requires some exertion from the parents to establish and sustain it. If parents make it contagious enough, most children will buy into the wonder and joy of Santa.
And yet this wonder and joy of Santa almost always falls away from our children. At some point they discover the mythology and completely abandon their faith in him. This doesn’t surprise us or disappoint us because he isn’t real. Like all of us, our children discover that Santa is a fun hoax and a pleasant supplement to our childhood Christmases.
Recent surveys are discovering that more and more young people aren’t just abandoning their belief in Santa but their belief in Christ. The joy of and excitement of Christ in their childhood is replaced by a cold agnosticism or a bitter cynicism. Most parents are distraught by this, as they should be. We do everything we can to lead our children to Christ, even though we know at the end of the day that ultimately Christ turns our children’s hearts to Himself. We are merely stewards of our children.
The reasons that they are abandoning the faith are myriad. Thankfully the Advent season provides us with a distinct window to focus on Christ, His goodness, and the marvels of the Gospel. There are a few insights from how we promote Santa to our kids that we can apply to how we reveal Jesus to our children:
We live like He’s real. In order for Santa to be believable to our children we must talk and act as though he is in fact a living and exciting person – even though he isn’t. We rearrange the aesthetics of our homes and reorient our conversations regarding his impending arrival on Christmas morning. Our children believe because we do. They grow excited because we are excited.
The story of Santa is fantastic and unbelievable. Kids are drawn to big stories and big heroes if we live like they’re believable. Small kids grow especially excited about Santa during Christmas time because pictures of him and stories about him are ubiquitous. His presence is felt. But after Christmas day that presence diminishes and the joy of Santa along with it.
The arrival and life of Jesus is even more fantastic than the story of Santa, yet I fear that over time we lose the excitement of the Gospel. Jesus becomes a tired accessory to our busy lives rather than the wonderous Savior of the world who wants to infiltrate every fabric of our lives with His joy.
Unlike Santa, Christ desires to be an enormous and exciting part of our lives every single day of the year. As our kids grow older the world grows both colder and crueler. Simultaneously the interests and the allures of this fallen world expand. New (albeit temporary) joys are promoted and promised to our kids. If we as parents do not maintain a robust excitement about Jesus and live as though He’s active in our own lives our kids’ own joy and excitement will likely wane.
Christ came for our coal. Santa gives coal to kids on the “naughty list” and gifts to those who are good. Sometimes we playfully use this part of the story to leverage our children towards good behavior. It is innocent fun. And yet there is still a false but pervasive strain in Christianity that says we are loved by God chiefly because of our good works. Many adults and children labor under the tyranny that they must toil for God’s approval rather than live freely from it.
Jesus came to give all of us a present – His life. He didn’t come to give us coal. On the contrary, He came because of our coal. Our sin and brokenness are why He penetrated this fallen world. He took the blame for our coal when He died on the cross. Children who grow up in a Christian home understand this basic historical fact: Christ came and died for our sins. What they may not understand is that Christ lovingly deals with our coal on a daily basis. He is actively at work in us today. His death freed us from the penalty of our coal, and now as our Risen Savior He is in the process of liberating us from its power.
As parents we are tempted to err by hiding our coal from our kids. As their spiritual shepherds we know that we are called to be an example and to demonstrate holiness. This is certainly important. But as my friend BJ Thompson once said, “Share with others your broken places, because it always allows Jesus to enter the story as the Hero.” Fear might make us anxious that our children will think less of us if we share some of our struggles with them. But what actually happens when we are humble enough to share is that our kids start thinking more of Jesus. Paul reminds us that Christ’s “power is made perfect in our weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We want our children to see, experience, and pursue Christ’s power in their own lives. His power is often put on full display for our children when we reveal to them where He is lovingly and faithfully addressing our coal. Showing our children where He’s at work in our lives gives them hope for how He can go to work in theirs.
An emphasis on Santa comes and goes each year. For all of us he eventually fades into the realm of mythical fun or becomes an afterthought. It doesn’t have to be that way with Christ. If we can go to great lengths to help our children fall in love with the character of a fun fable, how much more can we do to introduce them to the real and risen Savior of the Universe?
May the Lord grant all of us as parents new inroads this Advent season to demonstrate the wonder of Jesus. May He grab the hearts and minds of our kids for today, tomorrow, and eternity.