Every year in our home we love to fully embrace all the fun that goes along with Christmas. We decorate our house inside and out, we have a tree, an elf on the shelf and we have fun talking about Santa and playing along in all the fantastic stories about him. However, usually during our nightly family worship times we have a number of serious discussions about Santa. Here's what we tell them and the story of how we developed our approach as a family.
It began in 2009 when my first daughter was about two. We were walking by the Santa centerr at the mall and my daughter stopped, froze her step, and in her pause stared in confusion at the whole hoopla... Santa, his big chair, some elves, reindeer, candy canes and the whole bit. I thought I'd try and help and clarify for her so I said, "that's Santa, sweetie." That only made things worse because then she said, "Santa scares me, daddy." I was sort of dumbfounded at how to reply so I just said, "Well you don't have to be scared honey, because Santa was a pastor just like daddy." To which she then said, "hug, daddy, hug" and she grabbed on to me real tight.
I don't think she really understood at all, how could she. And as I've thought about it more, I'm not sure I do either. Sometimes words just come out of your own mouth without giving them a whole lot of thought that actually bring out something very important. What's the whole deal with Santa and how should we approach him?
The real Santa was a pastor during the third and fourth century who's name is remembered in conjunction with the city where he pastored, "Nicholas of Myrna." The ancient city of Myrna is now the modern town of Kale, Turkey. It's about 700 miles north of Jerusalem. Details of Pastor Nicholas' life are askant but basically what had happened is Jesus told the disciples to start the church and take the gospel out from Jerusalem, into Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Turkey is just north of Samaria. So it took a couple hundred years, but by that time there was a solid church in Myrna as the gospel just started to reach "ends of the earth."
We don't know if Pastor Nicholas started the church in Myrna or was appointed there. Due to many posthumous legends, it's difficult to decipher what is actual history and what is fantasy. However, there are two things that are clear about his pastorate.
First, he was present at the council of Nicaea which produced the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is a powerful and beautiful declaration of both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the gospel which saves from sins and gives us new life through the resurrection of Christ. It was drafted to protect Jesus' church from a heresy running around which speculated of a Jesus who was not fully eternal God and thus insufficient to fully pay the eternal penalty of sin. Thus, we know Pastor Nicholas cared deeply about doctrine, the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and it's power to save souls.
Second, though there are several extrapolated stories about Pastor Nicholas' generosity and how he extended it...what is consistent is that he was apparently very active in ministering to the poor. Whether it was in the form of money, food, or clothes he consistently made it a point to offer outward expressions of the work of the gospel in the heart which takes a poor and sick soul and gives it new life. Thus, we know that Pastor Nicholas cared deeply about mission and seeing as many people as possible come to know and experience the goodness of the gospel.
It's not much but these two facts about the real Santa paint a far different picture than the caricature of him in popular culture today. Today's Santa looks a lot more like a God figure than pastor who serves as Jesus' servant.
Today's modern Santa is supposedly everywhere present..."he sees you when you're sleeping" and supposedly all-knowing..."he knows when you've been good or bad." Being everywhere present and all-knowing are simply not gifts God gives to pastors, they are attributes which belong to God alone.
In addition, the modern Santa apparently seems to give good gifts regardless of whether or not kids have been good or bad. You never hear the stories about what happens to the bad kids. Does Santa the all-knowing bookkeeper then punish kids for being bad? If he doesn't, is he really good then? If he just sweeps bad under the rug and pretends it isn't real or didn't happen then isn't Santa corrupt for giving good gifts to bad kids? If Santa is really knows when we've been bad or good then he knows we've all been bad and should all get coal in our shoes.
Christmas is a time to celebrate the gospel. The gospel is the good news that though we are all bad kids and deserve not gifts but eternal judgment in hell, God sent his son Jesus to be born as a little baby in order to grow up and take our place of punishment as a substitute and suffer eternally so we would not have to. Jesus is the greatest gift of all that God has ever given unto the peoples of the world.
In 2008, New York magazine did an article titled, Learning to Lie. It addresses how parents breaking their children's trust can be detrimental for them as they grow up. I’m not sure enjoying the Santa stories qualifies as lying. I do think as parents we can have fun with fairytales…whether it’s Santa, the Elf on the Shelf or the tooth fairy while at the same time telling them the truth. Santa is a fun story. We don’t believe in Santa, we believe in Jesus and so did the original Santa and he would’ve wanted us to believe in Jesus too. By the way, Noel Piper has a helpful article on this you might want to check out too called, Thinking About Santa encouraging parents to have fun at Christmas time but to make Jesus the focus. And if you want a really fun video to show your kids, I love this one, Jesus and Santa.
Pastor Nicholas was about Jesus. He was about the person and the work of Jesus who came into the world as a gift from God for sinners. He was about pointing as many people as possible through as many means as possible to the only possible person who can save–Jesus.
When my daughter saw the modern Santa, dressed in red robes representing the Catholic cardinal's robes, she said it scared her. I agree. The modern Santa is straight up scary in a hellish kind of way because of how he leads us away from focusing on Jesus. The real Santa was a pastor who made much of Jesus, the savior whom God gave to the world so that we might know him, be forgiven, and filled with inexpressible joy.
May God bless you this Christmas season,