In Search of Solid Food

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).

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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7 responses to “In Search of Solid Food

  1. Glad to see that you’re back. I am one of those parents that refuses to play along with the Santa myth. What I find most interesting is the anger that I’ve encountered among Christians when I tell them that my family does not participate in the Santa nonsense. People think I am a stick in the mud who does not let his kids have any fun.

    After the service on the Sunday before Christmas, a nice older lady approached my 5yr old son and asked him,”Are you ready for Christmas? Did you tell Santa what you want?” I told her politely that my family does not do that. She looked irritated (She may have been irritated because I interrupted which i did to prepare her for what my son may say.) and told my son,”Well, Santa comes to my house.” My 5yr old son responded, “That is just your dad!” A similar incident happened last year as well.

    At Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve, my mom was standing in the check out line. The same son was with her. The lady in front of her asked him, “What is Santa going to bring you?” He responded, “I don’t believe in Santa!” She then told him, “My grandkids want an XBOX Kinnect, but would not get it if they didn’t believe in Santa.” My mom said that talked about other things after that.

    On Facebook, I was told that by not participating in the Santa nonsense I was depriving my kids of being kids by several Christians. I explained there that I don’t have to lie to my kids in order to let them use their imagination.

    Anyway, I figure that I can tell my kids about a mythological elf in a red suit who implicitly reenforces moral therapeutic deism and explicitly makes them the center of Christmas, or I can teach my kids about a real live Christian that slapped a heretic and gave to the poor thereby giving me another opportunity to point my sons to Christ and what He did for them.

    One last thing, have you seen/heard about this
    http://www.elfontheshelf.com/

  2. If you have the Complete Sermons of Luther, you should read Luther’s sixth sermon on Christmas. There is a great section on vocation. The sermon starts on page 144. Here’s part of the first fw paragraphs.

    “Here is another excellent and helpful lesson, namely, that after the shepherds have been enlightened and have come to a true knowledge of Christ, they do not run into the desert-which is what the crazy monks and nuns in the cloisters did! No, the shepherds continue in their vocation, and in the process, they also serve their fellowman. For true faith does not create people who abandon their secular vocation and begin a totally different kind of living, a way of life which the totally irrational monks considered essential to being saved, even though it was only an externally different kind of existence…But Christ did come to change external things, nor to destroy his creation nor to transform it. Therefore you should clothe your body, provide it with sustenance, and use it to do some honest-to-goodness labor. That is God’s creation and order; He did not come to change that arrangement. When of it becomes necessary, we are free to make minor adjustments, of course. That is such an inconsequential matter that it certainly doesn’t warrant sending our Lord Christ to make such decisions, let alone boasting of such changes as worship or piety, especially in view of the fact that even a cow or a sow is quite capable of making such adjustments!

    The real change which Christ came to effect is an inward change of the human heart, just as I now have a different mind, courage, and perception than I did when we were still controlled by the papacy and before the Gospel was revealed anew. At that time I was convinced that God would reject me, and I did not believe that I would be serving God if I continued in my vocation, discharging the duties of my office. As a matter of fact, I did not know God as He really is. Nor did I know how I could ever overcome sin and death, go to heaven, and live in eternal bliss.”

    I am going to stop there. The rest is really good.If you don’t a copy, let me know I can scan it for you.

  3. Back on topic, I read an excellent post by Rev. Eric J. Brown here where he gives a different response to the Santa question.

  4. I enjoyed reading this very much! We do not perpetuate the “Santa” myth at our house either – never have – and have gotten a lot of heat for it over the years. Our kids have been asked many times about what “Santa” is bringing or has brought, and we cringe at how their responses will be taken when they unabashedly tell people, “We don’t believe in Santa,” or some such thing – especially our oldest son who has been quite proud of that fact for YEARS!! Other parents get quite upset when he talks about it in front of their children, too, which has created some rather uncomfortable and apologetic conversations on our part…we’ve had to tell our kids that if the topic of Santa comes up in conversation with other kids, just don’t say ANYTHING, which I suppose isn’t the best solution.

    We, instead, choose to read Julie Stiegmeyer’s book about the real St. Nicholas, talk about his Christian example, and then we celebrate St. Nicholas day (eve. of Dec 5 – morn. of Dec 6) with the traditional small gifts (mostly coins and chocolate) left in the kids’ shoes.

    What was most frustrating to me in the beginning was the thought that I was going to have to lie to my children for an undetermined number of years until they “figured it out,” and then deal with the repercussions of the question, “Why did you lie to us?!” for another undetermined number of years. I just couldn’t bear the thought, so we decided from the beginning, Santa wasn’t coming to our house. Do we fill stockings? Yes. Do the kids know those gifts are also from Mom and Dad? Yup.

    I really appreciate your perspective on changing the focus. Let’s not worry so much about how much “harm” we’re causing by NOT introducing Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, but rather how much good we could be instilling in our children by spending all that time and effort focusing on the only Source of true and everlasting happiness, namely our Savior!!

    A blessed New Year to your family!

    • We read Julie Stiegmeyer’s book about the real St. Nicholas, too. we also started a tradition that on St. Nicholas’ day we will send a gift to someone who is not as fortunate as we are.

      I have friend that gives gifts to the neighborhood kids on St. Nicholas’ Day. I think that is cool too.

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