This is part 2 of a discussion on the sacred and secular struggle many Christian households face during Christmas. My goal isn’t to condemn secular traditions; rather, to ensure we are thinking about the impact some of our secular traditions have on our spiritual lives.
Christmas is a time to reflect on how God reveals Himself to us. While we understand that to be true, it is somewhat beyond our understanding of how God operates. In fact, Christians wouldn’t argue that God is omnipotent (meaning all-powerful); however, we often allow secular Christmas (Santa, Elf on the Shelf…etc) to hold aspects of power without thinking of the potential impact it may have on our spiritual Christmas (Jesus). While the issues are usually subtle, the impact is often great.
Our all-powerful (omnipotent) God.
Sometimes we misunderstand the tension between ability and willingness. God is fully able to do anything, but not always willing to do what we want Him to do. God’s goal is to mould and shape us by the experiences in our lives. To explain this, James wrote:
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.[i]
God uses his ultimate ability in this way, because he loves us. God is our heavenly Father who, even though we don’t understand most of the time, disciplines us so that we can grow and mature. With that said, our choice to either ignore God or embrace God will either end with a real consequence or real reward respectively.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[ii]
Out of love, however, God doesn’t wish any of us to be lost forever. In fact, both 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9, both point to the fact that God’s desire is for all of us to be saved. This of course brings us back to God’s omnipotent power – God is able to save all of us, but, out of love and desire for us to mature, gives us the freedom of choice.
So, what does this mean for our understanding of God’s power and Christmas?
Three things we should understand about God’s omnipotent loving power:
- God always can, but not always will;
- God loves us in a way that helps us; and,
- God’s consequences and rewards are real.
Most of us understand these three spiritual realities; however, when Christmas approaches, we sometimes forget that these spiritual realities are sometimes trumped (or at least downplayed) by Santa and/or Elf on the Shelf.
The “Knotty or Nice List”
Depending on where you go in the world, the consequences of being on the knotty list are different. In our North American context, any child who is “bad” should expect to receive coal Christmas morning. Some may argue the meaning of receiving such an item, but the general understanding is: if you’re bad, you’ll be on the knotty list, won’t receive the toy you asked for, and instead receive coal.
The Elf on the Shelve has a similar power, in that, if a child is bad, the elf will report to Santa and thus giving the threat of “toy letdown”.
Do we allow Santa to have godly power?
At first, you might laugh at that question! I did! Over the past few years, I’ve thought about some of the implications, but my attention was seriously turned toward the topic when I saw the movie “Santa Buddies” where kids actually pray to Santa. Have a look:
We may quickly dismiss this as something we don’t do; however, there are some serious threats of a potential negative impact on Christian households.
From what I can see, there are two (2) main issues surrounding this topic:
- We give Santa the ability to determine good and bad and resulting consequence or reward.
By focusing our attention on this, Santa becomes the provider and punisher. If kids are misbehaving, why don’t we focus on the fact that God is always watching (not just during Christmas) and wants what’s best for us, because He loves us. To me, that’s a message worth focusing on! That’s a message of hope; much better than “no toys” or “you’ll get coal!”
- The “Empty Threat”
Let’s be honest for a minute. If a child misbehaves to the point of threatening, “you’ll get no gifts on Christmas…”, we all know the threat is as empty as your wallet! At the end of day, the gifts remain. The only thing we teach our kids is that consequences aren’t real.
So, what’s the potential impact on our Spiritual lives?
While I know there are many other factors at play other than Santa, a secular focus during Christmas, doesn’t help in combating against these three (3) things:
- If God doesn’t, I must have been bad (have sin);
- If I experience bad things, God doesn’t love me; and,
- It doesn’t matter if I’m bad; consequences are empty.
When the real truth could be as far from these three concepts as possible, we need to make sure we focus on the right things during Christmas. We can have fun without giving God’s authority to Santa. If we do give over that authority, we really take the risk of encouraging these three backward ideas.
What are my options?
As I’ve said before, I am not trying to condemn secular Christmas! By writing about these issues, I want to make sure we are thinking about the potential impact on our spiritual lives so we focus on the most important things.
Focus more attention on what you want to see.
If you want to use the Elf on the Shelve, maybe you can have a look at the “The Kind Little Elf“. Instead on using the Elf in terms of a behaviour tool, the Elf encourages acts of kindness throughout the Christmas season.
Reserve godly characteristics for God.
Why do we point to Santa, when God is more powerful? Have fun with Santa, and when times of behaviour and/or need come into play, make sure to point to God. When I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend named Mary. I was the first child, so my imagination took over. There was no issue with having an imaginary friend. In fact, creativity and play are encouraged among kids for development. The problem came in, however, when I used my imaginary friend to hide my parents car keys when we were visiting a friend. I didn’t know where the keys were, because Mary had hid them. Long story short, my father asked me to ask Mary to get the keys (in the father-like serious tone no kid can ignore)! The fact is, using imagination isn’t the problem. The problem is when our imagination trumps or goes against important truths. Parents have the responsibility of working through that tension.
Your turn! Have you ever noticed Santa was allowed some godly attributes? What have you done as a parent/grand-parent/friend to counteract this issue?
[i] James 1:2-4, ESV.
[ii] John 3:16-17, ESV.