I’m finally getting back to writing. The Christmas chaos has subsided. The strep throat has been treated. The influenza has passed. My brain is finally thinking clearly. Hopefully you enjoyed the celebration of our Savior’s birth.
This Christmas season I saw a significant number of blogs, Facebook posts, and articles commenting on our fascination with Santa Claus. It’s curious and ironic how it has become a part of many Christian Christmas celebrations.
Jesus Christ came into this world as a sheer act of grace and undeserved gift of God’s love. The sinners of the world needed a Savior. By faith sins are forgiven. Whether you are good or bad, by faith in Christ, salvation is granted. Santa, on the other hand, rewards only those who are good. Children are told to believe a lie and are manipulated into good behavior because Santa “knows who’s been naughty and nice.” The contrasts have been written on by many. The inconsistency has been noted by many.
But my question is, why do Christians seem to be so complicit in perpetuating the inconsistency? What’s more appealing about Santa than our Savior? Are toys now more meaningful than forgiveness?
Yes, I grew up with the myth. But Santa always left a note in my mother’s unmistakable hand writing that spoke of nothing but Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And he was rarely spoken of outside of that one day. Thus, I’m not a hardnosed anti-Santa man on a mission. And I recognize the historic tradition of the real St. Nicholas. But with the massive commercialization of Christmas (and Santa), and a now distinctly post-Christian society, do Christians need to start becoming more discerning? Might the church’s complicit behavior, particularly of Christian parents, be indicative of our theologically deprived church culture?
One of the challenges that I have encountered over the years of my ministry is the malaise of parents regarding the teaching of the faith to their children. I have routinely asked parents to partner with their pastors as we teach (catechize) and pass on the faith to their children. I point out (as tactfully as I can) that the Small Catechism and the Scriptures call us to do this (Proverbs 6:20-22; 22:6.) But many times I’m simply rebuffed by parents. Some say they’re not qualified or they don’t know enough to teach their kids. Others say they don’t have the time. And still others say, “That’s why we pay you pastor.” Yet, at the same time, many are willing to perpetuate a false belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.
In a like manner, I’ve also been told that the Church has to stop making the Christian faith so difficult to comprehend for unbelievers. I’ve been told we need to simplify it. Make it easy. Make it simple. Just teach the basics. But I’ve come to the point where I feel compelled to ask, what has that actually achieved? Has making the faith simpler made more converts? Has making the faith easy made more disciples? Our ailing post-Christian society speaks for itself.
Yet, interestingly enough, this is not new in the history of the church. We can actually find a similar ailing Church in the New Testament. However, the letter to the Hebrews tells us how an ailing and theologically deprived church culture is cultivated:
9And being made perfect, he [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. 11About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:9-14, ESV).
Has the Church today become dull of hearing? Does the lack of theological understanding mean her people are drowning in milk? Is the Church guilty of malnourishing her people? Perhaps it’s time for the church to return to the solid food of Christ, His body and blood, and all of its theological fullness. Perhaps it’s time we call parents and grandparents to spend more time teaching about Christ than about Santa or the Easter Bunny. Yes, it’s time for the church to be bold in teaching the fullness of the faith rather than worrying about how hard some might think it will be.
As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).