by Robert Flores
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”—Luke 2:10
I feel sorry for the world, because they have taken the concept of Christmas and stripped it of all its Jesus-ness and replaced it with a lousy counterfeit. The true story of Christmas–the birth of the Savior into the world–brings unspeakable joy. The secularized version, on the other hand, complete with elves, reindeer, snowmen and Santa, is such a sorry, sanitized and unfulfilling replacement.
The world has tried its hardest to offer a Christmas without Jesus. The Santa-Gospel–which was developed by the best philosophers, marketing teams and leading minds of the last millennium–is the best generic alternative that the world has imagined to replace Jesus with. The fact that Christmas is such an underwhelming experience is evidenced in the popular expressions: “I just can’t get into the holiday spirit” or “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas”.
The Secularists have given their all to create something fake–their best humanism, their best artists , writers, musicians and storytellers–and their final product is still a far cry from the power of Jesus’ birth story. Billions of dollars have been thrown into the “Christmas Industry” to no avail. Centuries of myth-makers and folklorists have tried to create an alternate version to God being made “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 9:3). But nothing compares to Christ in a stable. Not any glitz or glamor, bells or whistles, can take away from the simplicity and the redemptiveness of the God who became Man.
So, why can’t materialistic, secular and humanistic thinking overtake Jesus’ birth? Why can’t the joy of shopping and spending money on the latest gadgets and gizmos conquer the nativity? Black Friday is but the high holy day of shoppers. James writes about lusting after things. He describes the madness of our godless American shopping season perfectly:
“But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. . . From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 3:14-16, 14:1-3).
It is this idea of “getting things” that tries to topple the idea that Christ gave Himself to the world. And, unfortunately, there is no peace for those who think this way. A materialistic Christmas brings no joy. And the happiness that is so richly promised is short lived. But that doesn’t stop the adults or children from trying to grasp some handicapped alternative to Jesus.
Consider the fact that most Americans treat Santa like they treat God. For example, if someone “believes” in Santa, they will “get” something from Santa. Likewise, if someone “believes” in God, they will “get” something from God. In other words, a belief in Santa is beneficial to the believer. The Santa-Gospel is definitely a “works-based” gospel: Belief reaps benefits and disbelief reaps unhappiness. People pray to God to curb their unhappiness, and when He “doesn’t answer” then they quickly believe in something else saying, “He’s not worthy of my belief”. We will see later in this essay why “belief in God” doesn’t bring happiness or lasting joy, either.
Now, let me clarify a few things. There is a sense that belief in God reaps benefits and disbelief reaps destruction. That is true, of course. But that’s not the reason to believe in Him. I believe in Him because He is true. It’s like trying to decide whether or not mathematical functions (i.e. 2+2) is really true or not. It’s not really a choice; it’s fact. You either accept it or not. But your life will be much harder if you don’t accept it. Santa, too, requires belief and good works. (Actually, it is parents that deceive their children that require good works for “Santa”).
However, people have fashioned their Santa idol after their misconceived notion of how God is. They have made Santa into someone to please with good works; no different than the idols of long ago, where sacrificing brought good favor upon your family, farms and food. Young children, too, think they can “trick” the senile Old Elf into thinking they are good by doing a few good works during the month of December. But, with God, there is no “tricking” Him. He knows your heart and why you “do good” or not.
When children grow up and grow out of their belief in Santa, they simply transfer Santa’s attributes to “God”. “God” is the adult-version of Santa. Think about this: Santa wants you to: 1. believe in him and 2. do good works and you will reap benefits. It’s a simple equation: belief + good works = gifts. But there is no relationship there. It’s a simple computational, emotionless equation. In all the stories with Santa, he does his job on Christmas Eve and doesn’t care about the person asking. He just cares that “if you do this (i.e. some minimalistic belief in him), you will get this (i.e. some materialistic thing you asked for)”. People think the same thing about their version of “God”. But that is not the God of the Bible.
The True God–the One that actually exists–doesn’t use the works-based equation. He doesn’t want some basic, minimal belief in Him. He wants your whole heart. He loves you and values you so much that He wants a relationship with you. He actually cares about your heart and not just your outside actions. Santa wants outside actions (good works) in exchange for inside actions (belief). The True God, on the other hand, wants inside actions (belief) that lead to outside actions–but, and here’s the clincher--with His power. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13) . His power inside of you is what makes you do good works, and that power (i.e. Holy Spirit) is what saves you, too; not good works. Your own determination and strength (like in the Santa mythos) isn’t what gets you good gifts; it’s only God’s will.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Belief has to be put solely in Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, His finished work on the cross for you. Jesus is the True Hero to believe in during Christmas (or any other day). Philippians 2:7 says this about what Jesus did for us:
“But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Nonetheless, in spite of Jesus as the True Hero of Christmas, Santa becomes the artificial hero of Christmas. Why? Because he hands out skateboards, bikes, video games and doll houses? What good is all of that? Seriously. Material gifts will never change a heart. Notice that once children do receive their gifts, they never thank Santa. They never even give him a second thought until 11 months later. For a whole month, he is the object of their affection and then–poof–he’s out of their minds as soon as they get what they want materialistically. That is not love. That is a user-abuser relationship.
Children are encouraged during the month of December to take advantage of Santa’s generosity by their parents. What does that teach children? That they can use anyone they want. And, when they are done with that person, they can kick them to the curb. Or, maybe this: people are just resources to use in life; when the resources (i.e. people) are depleted, leave them flat. Maybe that is why when one “prays to God” and He “didn’t answer my prayer”, that person quickly leave s their belief in God in the trash. That is the end of materialistic thinking. It is disposable like ink cartridges, cameras, friendships and marriages. Santa is just a crazy tycoon with lots of presents to give, so let’s exploit him for all he’s got! That is the message of Christmas to the children of the world: exploitation of Santa will make me happy and fulfill my needs.
It’s sad that this materialistic, counterfeit gospel takes away from the celebration of the King’s Birth in Bethlehem. In stark contrast to the ME-mentality of children (and adults), we see Jesus lying in a manger. The King who had everything, came down to live among His poor creations. Jesus came to sacrifice Himself for sinners. He came to give gifts--like Santa–but the gift Jesus brought was Himself. Consider what Jesus did in John 13:4-5, “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” Jesus came as a servant of all to shower His children with love.
Santa doesn’t sacrifice himself for the children of the world. He’s like an assembly line; he produces and he’s valuable. A production-minded Santa is very attractive to the American mindset in which productivity equals value. So, what other kind of Santa would there be? Santa is only as good or valuable as what He does for you. Sadly, this is the value people put on God: if He doesn’t do anything for me, then I don’t want Him. God’s value is determined by his “output” into a person’s life. That concept turns God into an Aladdin or a robot and completely devalues who He is as a Person.
Santa, on the other hand, is a workhorse: He does his job once a year and leaves. Much like a father who just works for his childrens’ needs but never cares to have a relationship with his children. What do we think of absentee fathers like that?
But Jesus came to stay. He is here, still giving Himself to the world. Jesus didn’t come for one day and then leave. He is here to help you every day of the year. He isn’t here to give you material things (we’ve already seen how that works with Santa), but to give you Himself. Don’t be fooled by Santa’s counterfeit gospel. The Santa-Gospel is the best the world has conjured up. It’s very similar to Christianity, but in the end, leaves only material things that won’t change the emptiness and sin that is still inside you.
Santa is the lord of materialism. He is the god of everything that materialism says. He is not concerned with people’s hearts–just in giving them enough stuff to keep them away from God. Who does that sound like? It’s Satan: he gives people enough rope to hang themselves with.
Jesus, on the other hand, is the King of Kings who was born to die for us and to be resurrected, conquering all death and sin. God made flesh is reason to celebrate. The Gift of all Gifts was given to us through a virgin. Prophesied 700 years before, Isaiah said this about Christmas:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
A Christmas without Jesus is an empty, shallow, unimportant and boring event. It makes no difference to one’s life past, present or future. It can’t even sustain its own outward joy one day after. Contrary to the mythos that the world has created, there is a story of a Messiah being born, surrounded by angels, shepherds and wise men. The birth of this King is the reason for Christmas; not some imaginary Elf who has no relationship with you.
God wants a relationship with us and He wants us to embrace His Gift that He has given us: His Son. He can’t give us anything more valuable than what He has already given us in Christ.