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Merry Christmas

Don’t treat God like Santa Claus

When my kids were small, we didn’t do Santa Claus. This isn’t because we don’t like to have fun, of course; if you’re a parent who participates in the Santa tradition, all the power to you. Our reasons for keeping Christmas relatively Santa-free, outside of our annual tradition of sharing the apocryphal tale of St. Nicholas slapping the heretic Arius in the face at the council of Nicea, have more to do with Calvin and Hobbes than with the more traditional fears you might hear.

Can We Be Good Enough?

Calvin and Hobbes may well be one of the greatest comic strips to ever appear in a newspaper. Starring 6-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, it explored philosophy, the time-space continuum, and waged war against Suzie Derkins, the girl who lived down the street.

But every Christmas, Calvin faced a challenge: Could he be good enough to merit presents from Santa?

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He would concoct silly plans, make deals with Santa, justify his behavior, all to ultimately give into his darker impulses, bean Suzie with a snowball, and still get presents at the end of it. Obviously, it’s kind of silly and ridiculous when we read it in a comic strip. We are right to laugh at it.

But there’s nothing funny about it when we are living like this. It’s actually kind of sad.

If “Being Good” is The Goal…

And yet, this is what so many of us seem to do. Because the notion of a God who freely offers grace to the undeserving is so offensive, we redefine him. We bargain with him and behave as though he were some sort of mythical, malevolent Santa Claus figure. We believe he insists we be good in order to get a gift. If we don’t, well, something a lot worse than a lump of coal is waiting for us.

But the Bible knows nothing of this sort of god. It is not the God Christians worship.

Instead, the Bible reveals to us a God who knows we cannot possibly be ever good enough to deserve the gifts he gives us—new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus—but he gives freely. God is extravagantly generous to people who spit in his face, sending rain to the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). He adopts those who believe into his family, giving them all the blessings and honor that come with it. God gives us an inheritance, a new identity, a promise and a hope that though this world is passing away, there is a new one on the horizon where sin and sadness will exist no more, and only joy and peace will remain. Where we will be with God, and he will be with us.

Santa can be a fun game, and even an inspirational figure if we look into history, but let’s be careful not to treat God like him. God holds nothing back. He always gives us the best gifts. And there is no greater gift to give than himself in Christ.

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