Tuesday, December 03, 2013

What about Santa?

I personally don't have a problem with Santa. Acknowledging that the Santa tradition is just for fun puts Santa, in my view, along side Frosty the Snowman and Christmas trees. They are elements that brighten the winter just as fresh flowers brighten the summer.

However, believing in Santa--that is, believing Santa is real--can be confusing to some when it is contrasted with belief in Jesus Christ. Some will argue that when we teach our kids to believe in Santa and to also believe in Jesus, we are confusing them. We tell them, one day--oh, yeah, all that Santa stuff was not true.  What, then, are they left to think when we tell them to go on believing Jesus is real?

How do we deal with criticisms that the two icons of Christmas, one secular and one sacred, Santa and Jesus respectively, merit the same treatment with regards to belief in them? How do we respond to the premise that believing in Jesus is just as whimsical as believing in Santa?

The problem believers face is that, from a secular point of view, belief in Santa IS just like belief in Jesus. Secular historians will say that Christ is resurrected and lives on in the lives and memories of those that believe and do what He taught. He lives, from the secular point of view, because the traditions and teachings followed by those who believe in him make him alive.

This view is like saying an ancestor lives on in the lives of his or her descendents. Someone might say, "Well, little Johnny is carrying on the family traditions of Grandpa…"

From this perspective, Santa lives on and is real, too. The traditions and ideals of Santa are carried out by people. Thus, from this point of view, Santa IS real. Santa lives because people keep Santa alive by adhering to the Santa ideals and by practicing the Santa traditions.

This point of view will heretically insist that Christ was resurrected only in the memories and obedience of the early Church, and that Christianity is the hand-me-down legacy of that first encounter with Christ. Using that same line of reasoning, if the ideals of Santa are carried out, then Santa lives on, too, and thus, Santa is real just like Jesus.

But belief that Christ is real is dramatically different from believing that Santa is real.  It is two entirely different things.

The difference is that Christ, indeed, rose from the dead, and the Spirit of God works in the world. It is a real, spiritual thing. It is not just the ideals and practices that make Jesus Christ alive and real. The truth is that Jesus is alive and real independent of anything believed or done by people. This fact draws a sharp distinction between Santa being real and Jesus being real.

Jesus does not depend on humanity to be real; Jesus is alive and real, with or without humanity's belief or practice. Santa, on the other hand, is alive and real only because people uphold the Santa ideal and perpetuate the Santa tradition.

People uphold the ideals of Christ and adhere to Christian practice, not (as in the case of Santa) to make Jesus real, but rather because Jesus is real. 

Take care not to compare the giving of gifts from Santa to the God's giving humanity his Son, Jesus Christ. The Santa tradition insists that he gives gifts to the good girls and boys. God's gift is given by grace through faith, not as a result of any good behavior on the part of a person. 

There is a theology starting in modernity and continuing now that is true, but dangerously close to embracing heresy. Bonhoeffer said that the Christian church, filled with God's Spirit, is the way God works in the world today. He called the Christian church the visible community of God empowered by the indwelling Spirit of God to be the hands and voice of God. Post-modern language extends this to say that the Church is the current incarnation of God. That we Christians, indwelled by God, are God to the world.
I'm mostly okay with that language. But, if one dared subtract the indwelling Spirit of God, we are back to "God is alive because people practice the ideals and traditions.... blah, blah, blah, etc." We end up dangerously close to the premise that Jesus (or Santa) is alive and real because people make him so.
Let there be no mistake: God is alive and real, and not because of what we do! God has tasked believers to be servants, not for God's sake, but for theirs.
Image: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=25255&picture=santa-claus

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