Let’s play a game. I’ll describe someone, and you tell me who I’m talking about. Here are six clues:
- He’s an old man with a flowing, white beard.
- He sees everything you do.
- He keeps a list of your deeds, good and bad.
- He lives in a far-off, magical kingdom that you couldn’t find if you tried.
- He never allows himself to be seen, and
- All the movies about him are fairly lame.
The person I’ve just described is . . .
(a) Santa Claus;
(b) God; or
(c) I can’t tell the difference.
Unfortunately, for most people, the answer is probably, “(c) I can’t tell the difference.” And that’s a problem, because Santa’s a mean, old codger. At first he seems nice – you know, with his superpowers, magical kingdom, and all-knowing eyes.
But the all-knowing eyes of Santa become a problem when you curse, gossip, lie, lust, or otherwise miss the mark. “He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.” And let’s face it, you’ve not been very nice this year – and don’t even lie and say you were. No gifts for you!
Come to think of it, Santa would get along quite well with the angry god so many of us worship. Beyond the striking resemblance, they are both thoroughly disconnected from our daily struggles. They keep their distance, only showing up on holidays. And they’re neurotically obsessed with bad behavior.
No wonder so many kids grow up and don’t want to believe in either of them.
But although Santa may have a lot in common with our twisted idea of God, he has nothing in common with the real deal – the God of the Christmas story.
That God does more than park his sleigh on a roof. He parked Himself in the womb of an impoverished Jewish teenager living in the third world.
He’s not the type to show up in a frilly, red robe. No, this God showed up naked, with no control over his bowels, spending his first night in a barnyard feed trough.
Most importantly, the God of the Christmas story isn’t obsessed with a naughty list.
He’s got a different list – a list of each child He’s adopted. And He doesn’t keep the list on a scroll. He’s got it engraved on His hands – those nail-scarred hands that left Him dangling from a cross – all for the love of naughty children like you and me (Isaiah 49:16, John 19:28-30).
He’s nothing like our Santa-god, whose gifts can be earned if you try hard enough. Instead, He freely gives us His love – a gift so great we can never claim to deserve it. So with humility, we stand next to His bed of hay and cry, “Our hearts are dirtier than a feed trough, but please make them Your home.”
And to that, His Spirit replies, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).