Santa vs. the Savior
December 24, 2013
In our over-commercialized world, it can be easy to think that Christmas is all about toys and trinkets, clothing and cash. Everywhere we turn this time of year, we are overrun with advertisements and bombarded with commercials.
In this special Christmas message, though, Pastor Ed Young helps us distinguish the difference between God’s meaning for Christmas and the world’s message of it. And we remember that Christmas is all about Jesus – the ultimate gift, the perfect present.
ILLUS: On Christmas Eve, I would go to bed early, waiting for Santa to make his rounds by the Young household. We would have the proverbial milk and cookies out for him. My brother and I would usually wear matching pajamas. We’d go to sleep and we knew Santa, one day out of the year, was making the trek in his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer to disperse presents to all the good little boys and girls. In fact, the song said it. That Santa knows if you’re sleeping. He knows if you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!
So we knew, if we behaved; if we were good boys (and we thought we were) then Santa would reward us by giving us these incredible presents. Although he was only present one day a year, we felt confident that he would bestow upon us the presents that we wanted. We thought we needed them, but really we just wanted them.
We also knew, by what was said about Santa and what we read and heard, that if you were nice you got the good gifts; if you were naughty you either got a lump of coal or switches.
We concluded that we were in the “nice” category, and we thought that our goodness was good enough. And each and every year, we were rewarded for our goodness by the presents we received from Santa.
Bottom line? I like Santa. He’s a great guy; he’s cool. Santa is extremely generous, and he grants good little boys and girls their wishes. I’m pro-Santa. But I’ve got a question for you. What is the fundamental difference between Santa Clause and Jesus Christ?
Obviously one is a fictional character from the North Pole. The other is grounded in historical fact. Jesus, being the most profound and powerful person to ever walk across the stage of human history. I understand that. One is fictitious; the other is factual. But what are the differences between Santa and the Savior? What distinguishes one from the other?
Santa is present once a year. He comes from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. He makes a cameo Christmas appearance, then he’s gone back to his house with Santa’s helpers who work around the clock for gifts and presents to be dispersed a year later.
Jesus, though, came from heaven to earth. He was born in a manger, an ordinary piece of farm furniture, just a 5k away from Jerusalem in a little town called Bethlehem. He grew and lived righteously and died on a cross in Jerusalem. Three days later he rose again. And forty days from that he ascended back to heaven. Yet, he told us that he is with us forever. He is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” So that’s a difference.
Another difference is that Santa’s presents are based on behavior. Christ’s are based on grace. Santa keeps track of those who have been naughty and nice, those who have been bad and good. Then he gives presents to those who have been nice. Most of us celebrate Christmas in accordance with the theology or the gospel of Santa. For the majority it’s about giving and receiving gifts. And if you’re like me, you put people on your Christmas list that you like and those people who have been good to you. Again, only those who have been nice will get a gift from us. Those who have been mean will not.
There are a couple things that are weird with the gospel according to Santa. The first is that it buys into the premise that Christmas is primarily about toys and trinkets and presents that we give each other. That’s why the shopping frenzy begins on Thanksgiving now. And most retail stores are counting on that, because they earn about 40% of their annual profit during the Christmas season. One thing we’ve learned from Santa is that Christmas is all about presents.
It seems as though every year the shopping and selecting and presents get more and more prestigious. We start dropping hints or raising questions about what we want even before the leaves have fallen from the trees. Many stores start decorating for Christmas as soon as the Halloween candy is removed from the shelves.
So not only has Santa convinced us that Christmas is about buying and receiving gifts, but most of us give like Santa does – only to those that we like. I was trying to think, when was the last time I gave a gift or did something nice at Christmas for someone I didn’t particularly like? When was the last time you did something nice for a person you didn’t like or who didn’t like you?
I’m sure you’ve done a lot of your Christmas shopping already. Have you bought a gift for the person that cursed you out on the job last week? Or the person who made that negative comment on your Twitter feed or your Instagram? Or that teacher or coach who was mean-spirited to you? Or maybe you had someone on the Christmas list, but they betrayed you and stabbed you in the back, and you just scratched them off. I’m not trying to guilt trip you; it’s just human nature. We give gifts to the people that we like and the people who are important. But when those people have hurt us or offended us, for some reason or another they’re not included.
Now contrast that to what Jesus is all about. Christmas is not about the things that we give to each other. It’s about how the love of God was demonstrated when he gave us his only son. Christmas is about Christ. It’s God going to work in human history to forgive our sins and to reestablish a relationship with every one of us, and to establish our feet upon a path of peace and justice and love for one another.
Santa gives gifts to those who are in a selected group, but Jesus gave his gift to everyone – good and bad, those who have been naughty and nice. And that is grace, unmerited favor.
When someone gives you a gift; when you receive a gift, there is a humility to it. You feel humbled. You feel as though you owe the person something. Parents, can you imagine as you disperse the presents to your kids this Christmas; can you imagine if your children thought to themselves and then told you, “Wow, Mom and Dad, these presents are amazing! Now I’ve got to work it off. You gave them to me and now I’ve got to work and work and work, and somehow I can merit your generosity.” That would be whack, wouldn’t it?
The gift, the ultimate present is the presence of God, Jesus donning human flesh, living righteously, dying sacrificially, rising bodily. He offers us the gift of salvation, which is the most precious gift one could possibly receive at Christmas.
Santa’s gifts, are temporal. Christ’s are eternal. Long after the clothes you receive no longer fit; long after the jewelry has faded and lost its luster or you’ve lost it; long after you can’t find all of the parts to that ultimate toy; long after the dog has chewed up your brand new shoes, the gift from God will still be working! Long after the carols have stopped, the lights have been taken down, the trees have been taken to the dump, God’s gift – his perfect present – will still be working. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect. God’s present is perfect.
Santa’s presents are basically what we want. Christ’s presents are what we need. Had our greatest need been knowledge, he would have sent a teacher. Had our greatest need been technology, he would have sent a scientist. Our greatest need was forgiveness, because we are sinners. So God sent a savior.
The perfect gift reflects the life of the giver and meets the deepest need of the recipient. And that’s the difference between Santa and the Savior.
Another difference is Santa’s presence is limited; Christ’s presence is unlimited. Jesus is everywhere at the same time. There is not anywhere where he is not.
Another difference is Santa’s presents are under the tree; Jesus was on the tree. He died on the tree for imperfect people like you and me. It started in Bethlehem and ended outside of Jerusalem. It started in a cradle but ended on a tree. It started with the birth of a baby, but ended with the death of a man. And it culminated with the death of death as Jesus rose again.
What God did for us was not reserved for those who are already living “nice” lives.
Here’s another difference between Santa and the Savior. Santa reserves his toys for people who have been good all year long; Christ offers his presents to us even though we’ve chosen darkness over light; even though we’ve chosen to disregard and disobey his teachings. What an indescribable and wonderful gift God has given, and what a wonderful blessing we can receive if only we open our hearts and accept it by faith.
Instead of coal, Jesus gave us the cross. Instead of switches, he gave us the riches in heaven.
Santa only comes once a year. He goes back to the North Pole and holes up in his village. He’s not coming back to see us, no matter what our needs might be. This is not the case with the Savior. In Matthew 28:20, “…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus is on call 24 hours a day. God’s power is available to us every day of the week.
Illus: My mother has been in ICU for almost a month, fighting a rare blood disorder. My family and I have never gotten a card or call or text from Santa, because he is only on call one day a year, and only for those who have been nice. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s been a moment in my father’s life or in my family where we’ve not felt the presence of the Savior during this time.
No matter what you receive; no matter what kind of presents you receive for Christmas, God has already offered the greatest gift that’s ever been given. Receive the gift. Humble yourself. And you’ll understand the present is the presence of Jesus.