As that song of the season goes, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” As I pen these words, the Southern town in which my family lives is witnessing historic accumulations of snow. Our living room is filled with a soft, twinkling ambiance which emanates from our lighted Christmas tree. Nearby, a few apartments are adorned with exterior Christmas lights, while the community bulletin board prominently features a flyer advertising an upcoming holiday gathering.
On that flyer is a picture of arguably the most recognizable figure at this time of year: Santa Claus. Undoubtedly, the children and families of our apartment community join millions of others in awaiting his advent on the night before Christmas. For many, preparations for Santa’s arrival began long before the Christmas season. As another famous Christmas song states:
He’s making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
Many girls and boys from around the world have heeded these words, making every effort to “be good for goodness sake” in hopes of eliciting the affections of Santa. (My guess would be that few, if any, of these children’s parents have been bothered by these moralistic acts!)
Santa says, “If you’re good, I’ll give you a gift.”
What gift will Santa be leaving at your house this Christmas?
A better question might be: what gift should he be leaving?
The Case for the Claus
From the Christian perspective, there is no one who deserves any sort of gift from Santa Claus. There is no one who can naturally be described as “good.” Ecclesiastes 7:20 gives full development to this diagnosis: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”
Oftentimes, the person who lives sinfully is easy to spot. The school bully. The teenager who lives in open defiance to authority. The man or woman who pursues sexual gratification at all costs. The person who seeks solace through the empty shell of substances. Each of these cases could be referred to as “license.” A person assumes the role of ultimate authority in his or her life, and then seeks meaning, value, purpose, and satisfaction in his or her own power.
But license is not the only way to be bad. In fact, sinfulness is often veiled by the veneer of moral excellence. In its simplest form, sinfulness-through-morality can be birthed in the heart of the child who desires to do good in order to personally receive gifts from Santa (rather than to love, honor, and serve other people). This same heart posture also manifests itself in many other forms, such as in the person who performs community service primarily to pad a résumé, or in the person who attends church in primarily to build a network of influence.
Some combination of these two postures is present in the heart of every human. With Santa, the best any of us could hope for would be to receive coal and switches (unless, of course, Santa’s standard for “goodness” is more lenient than that of Scripture). In relation to the God of the universe, coal and switches are mild when compared to the fruit of our sinfulness. Romans 6:23 begins by bleakly stating, “The wages of sin is death…”
It is not a gift that we need.
We are dead; we need life itself.
The Response of Jesus Christ
Gloriously, the life we all need is available in Christ. The rest of Romans 6:23 continues, “[But] the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John 10:14-15 clarifies this portrait of grace even further. Christ himself says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus is nothing like Santa Claus. He needs no list categorizing the “naughty” and the “nice:” he knows his people just as he knows the Father. In unity with the Godhead, Christ the Son is entirely intimate in his relational knowledge of the Father. And as a function of his Kingship over all of Creation, Christ the Son knows his people better than they know themselves. The fullness of their brokenness is ever before him, in all of its gruesome detail. Should Christ have treated his flock as Santa treats the children of the world, eternal death would be the only just desert for the sheep.
Thus the Gospel triumphs over the works-based righteousness of Santa Claus. The wonder of Christ far outshines one of the greatest, most jubilant figures mankind has ever produced.
Santa may say, “If you’re good, I’ll give you a gift.”
Christ responds, “You can’t be good, so I’ll give you my life.”
Even in knowing the full depth of his people’s “naughtiness,” the Good Shepherd was pleased to lay down his life once and for all for the sheep of his pasture (John 1:15). He who alone is good willingly took our sinfulness as his own. And in exchange, we receive what Christ alone deserves to enjoy: life everlasting, as well as “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).
Regardless of what gifts Santa may or may not bring to your house this Christmas, may this season be one in which the people of God are affectionately drawn to Jesus: the One who responds to his broken people not by giving them the death they deserve, but by laying down his very life in order that they might enjoy Him abundantly and eternally.
May the gifts we receive remind us of our inability to elicit the favor of God in and of ourselves.
And may the givers of the gifts point us to the One who gave up life itself, so that we might live forevermore.