Santa and Jesus
Santa Claus is the only individual in Canada with his own postal code - H0H 0H0. Over 11,000 Canada Post employees volunteer their time every Christmas season to answer the more than a million letters that pour into the postal system from all corners of the world, addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0, Canada.
Although our own children were never convinced of the reality of Santa Claus, they had close friends in elementary school who firmly believed in his existence. Their parents even warned us that our children were not to seek to poke any pins of scepticism into their children’s perceptions of reality. Santa Claus is a person of colossal significance, particularly in the minds of children. No thoughtful Christian family in the West can ignore the question of whether Santa Claus and his gifts have not so upstaged Christ as to make Christmas primarily a celebration of the fleeting visit of a jolly old man from the North Pole rather than the incarnation of the Son of God.
Today I want to read you a letter from a boy, whom we will call Jason. It’s not a letter to Santa Claus, although Jason knows all about Santa Claus as you will find out in the letter. Instead Jason has written a letter to the Apostle John, because Jason goes to Sunday school and so he knows something about the Bible and the Christmas story
Dear Apostle John,
If you don’t know, you are really famous in a lot of Sunday school classes. Many Sunday school teachers have asked their students to memorize long verses from your book.
I am writing you because I have a suggestion. See, you do not have anything about Christmas in your gospel, and I have a great idea for how you could make your book a little more interesting and give it more Christmas spirit. I’d like to suggest that you put in a section about Santa Claus. These days Santa Claus is a huge part of Christmas. But our pastor says that the Bible says nothing about Santa. I know Christmas is the day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, but I think that your book would be more up to date for kids today if it properly introduced Santa Claus and told how he visited Baby Jesus that night in the manger and left him some neat toys like a Transformers Ultimate Bumblebee action figure or some Eyeclops Night Vision goggles. No I guess a baby would like a rattle and some Fisher Price stuff. I know that the wise men gave gifts to Jesus, but what kind of a kid wants gold, incense and myrrh? Although some girls like perfume and jewellery, I sure wouldn’t be happy if I got those kinds of presents! So why don’t you just put Santa in the Bible and he could bring presents that Baby Jesus would really like? I don’t know if that stable where Jesus was born had a chimney but maybe Santa could come in through a window.
You see, I know adults in church say that Jesus is better than Santa Claus, but I am not convinced. Santa Claus is a big part of Christmas here, and it seems like a shame that the Bible doesn’t talk about him. Santa goes everywhere on one night, and doesn’t just stay in a little quiet town like Bethlehem waiting for people from the east to come and visit him. Santa zooms around the world in a super fast sled, and his reindeers move an awful lot faster than the donkey that carried Jesus’ mother to Bethlehem. Santa is very rich and generous. He gives a whole lot of presents to children everywhere and even to a lot of adults. I know Jesus gives us salvation and our food, but as a baby, he was pretty poor. His parents couldn’t even afford a motel. And Santa is really smart. He knows whether we have been naughty or nice, so we try to be extra good just before Christmas. Santa knows what we want for Christmas and though he doesn’t always get it all right, he generally gives us toys we like and videos we haven’t seen yet. Although he is an old man, he understands the latest technology and computer games and things like that. Meanwhile, the Baby Jesus is just a baby, and a baby doesn’t know anything. It just sleeps, eats or cries.
I hope you are not upset by my suggestion to put Santa Claus in the Bible. I just think that your great book would be even greater if it said something about Christmas.
You have may have guessed by now, but this letter was not written by a real boy named Jason, but is entirely fictitious, created on my computer. But if it had been a real letter, how would the Apostle John answer such a letter? Obviously he would be very dismayed to hear that the mythical stories of Santa Claus have somehow surpassed the significance of the incarnation of the Son of God, even for children from homes that celebrate the birth of Christ. I think he would also strongly resist the suggestion that he had forgotten about the event of Christmas in his gospel. His goal was not to give a historical record of everything that had happened in Christ’s life or the events surrounding His birth. Rather he sought to explain more clearly the significance and the meaning of what happened. So while the other Gospels hint at the idea that Jesus really was God, John decided to boldly say so right from the very first verse. The helpless little baby was really God, the Creator of everything on earth and heaven.
Obviously John does not directly address the question of the superiority of Jesus to the legend of Santa Claus. But a close look at John 1:14 reveals some significant and startling contrasts between the Incarnation and the mythical advent of Santa Claus.
1. In Jesus, God became one of us. Santa doesn’t.
Santa Claus is not really like us. He is part of a magical world that operates by different rules than our world. Santa can’t afford to become like us. He has no time to become our friend or talk to us.
In contrast, John 1:14 says the Word became flesh. Which parents would ever describe their child’s birth by saying our baby “became flesh?” But this is very appropriate language when we are talking about God coming to earth. God the Son existed before he came to earth. He did not become a person at birth or even at conception. He simply became flesh. But Scripture also does not say He just put on flesh, like we put on clothing. He actually “became flesh.” From now on, and for the rest of eternity, God walks around in a body. God became like His creation. He had dirty diapers, runny nose, grimy hands, stinky feet, sweaty armpits, and pimples. He became dependent on those He had created.
What an amazing miracle! Whatever would motivate a Creator to become like part of his creation? Obviously His great love for us is part of the answer. But God also wanted to fully identify with us. From now on, no one can say that God does not understand what it means to be in pain, to be tempted, to be hungry or thirsty, to be sick, or to experience death. Furthermore, He wanted to save us. He was willing to become one of us so that he could bear the punishment of sin that man rightfully deserved. He took our place and God’s wrath fell on him, rather than on us.
2. In Jesus, God lived among us. Santa doesn’t.
Santa Claus does not live among us. He lives at the North Pole and only comes for a very brief time once a year. Someone has calculated that Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house.
In contrast, John 1:14 says that the Word made his dwelling among us. The Greek word means to pitch one’s tent or tabernacle and take up residence. To pitch your tent among a people meant that you came to live with them. The tabernacle was the dwelling-place of God, the place where God’s glory was located in the middle of the Israelite camp, where God’s throne was located on earth. Jesus’ body was also the dwelling place of God on earth. Jesus didn’t live in a palace or on top of a mountain or at the North Pole. He chose to live among the common people - among the carpenters, fishermen and farmers of Galilee. And in that way, Jesus was far more accessible than the Israelite tabernacle. Only the High Priest could enter the throne room of God once a year. But Jesus could be touched every day by common people, sinners and tax collectors and boys and girls, by everyone who saw him. By living among real people, Jesus experienced real life – like respecting parents, dealing with younger siblings, going to school, making friends and having enemies, working for a living, paying taxes. He lived among us - not sheltered from all the inconveniences, frustrations and troubles, but experiencing them with us.
How amazing! What would motivate God to chose to live among common people? He could have died for us even if he had never lived among the common people. But He wanted to show us how to live life the way it was designed to be lived. He wanted to teach his disciples first of all by example. He loved us so much that he did not want to remain aloof from what ordinary people experience in everyday life.
3. Jesus is one of a kind. Santa isn’t.
Children do not see the real Santa Claus. They see pictures of him and movies about him, they see people dressed up like him in the malls, but they don’t see the real Mr. Santa Claus. Santa Claus is relatively easy to duplicate. You can dress up like him. You can do his work, at least in your own family. We have a lot of fake Santas running around.
In contrast, John says we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only (NIV). Jesus was simply representing God. John insists that in the human Jesus, he beheld the very glory of God. By saying that he saw the glory of God, John says he and his friends realized that when they were looking at Jesus and what he did, they were seeing more than just a man. This was God incarnate.
Not only was Jesus not a fake, He was unique. Very few of the gifts we receive are really unique. If they were bought in a store, then probably thousands of other people received the exact same gift we did. But Jesus is truly unique. The Greek word monogenes, translated in the KJV as “the only begotten” and in the NIV as “the One and Only,” communicates the idea of uniqueness, being one of a kind. The glory that John saw was unique, far beyond the glory of a king or a prince. This was the very glory of God. Jesus had no equal. He is the only Son of God. We are children of God, but not THE Son of God. He is the only one who fully has shown us what God is like (John 1:18).
4. Jesus was full of grace and truth. Santa is not.
Santa’s is full of cheer, and his sleigh is full of presents but the Christmas cheer doesn’t last very long and the presents don’t last very long either. Soon the children are complaining and fighting again, all too soon the toys are broken or discarded, all too soon we have to go back to work and figure out a way to lose all the extra pounds we gained over the Christmas season and pay off our credit card bills. Soon Santa Claus is pretty empty when it comes to really satisfying our real needs in life.
In contrast, John says that Jesus is “full of grace and truth”.
Grace - speaks of his love, the undeserved gift of salvation that God freely gives. There are no credit card bills from this gift, no extra pounds that we have to work off, no need to ever exchange it or return it for warranty. And it is a gift that keeps on giving. John 1:16 - from the fullness of his grace we have received one blessing after another. “When one supply of grace is exhausted, another is available.” EBC
Truth - speaks of the Gospel, the light that he brings to the world. John 1:4-5 - this light never burns out, no bulbs ever have to replaced. John 1:9 - This light is the true light; it is genuine, not a fake. This light is for everyone - not just for the relatively small percentage of families in the world that can afford to buy their children several gifts each Christmas.
Jesus is better than Santa Claus and not just because the birth of Jesus is historical fact and the story of Santa Claus is basically myth and legend. What happened that first Christmas when the Son of God was born into a human family is so amazing that even if the story of Santa Claus was true, it would still pale in comparison with the true message of Christmas.
If Santa Claus is real, admittedly we are dealing with something very extraordinary – the story of flying reindeer, a fat man who comes down chimneys even if you have a high efficiency furnace, a single person visiting millions of homes in a single night. But the story of the Creator of the Universe becoming a man and living on earth to show us what God is like and to die for our sins - well, frankly that is a much greater miracle.
Maybe people have promoted and propagated the story of Santa Claus because they found the original story of Christmas just too hard to believe. Somehow flying reindeer were easier to accept than the truth that God had become flesh.
So how do we know that the story of God becoming man really happened? Because we have eye witnesses - “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only ... John was there. He and hundreds of others saw him, touched him, talked with this man, and they saw clearly that this was no ordinary man. No, this was God Himself walking around in flesh and blood.
John says that we knew it was the real thing. This was no fake. It really happened. This is no fairy tale that as you grow up, you realize one day that it didn’t really happen. That it was just make-believe. No, we are dealing with an actual event in human history - astounding - yes. The greatest event that has ever happened. Unparalleled, matchless - yes. It will never be repeated. It will never be surpassed. But unbelievable - NO! The story of Jesus coming to earth is for real.
And if it really happened, if it is not like the story of Santa Claus, then that means that the story of Christ being born in Bethlehem is not just a story for children. It has become an integral part of my story, and I hope of your story. Because this event happened in human history, my life is completely different. None of the gifts that Santa supposedly gave me over the years have ever changed my life. But this single event in a stable in Bethlehem has changed my life forever. Because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we can also live - live with God on earth and one day live with Him in heaven.