“You better be good, or Santa won’t bring you any Christmas presents.”
I’m pretty sure everyone who grew up in North America heard this at least once in their childhood. It’s all over the marketing around Christmas; it’s the plot device in movies and TV specials… and it’s not true.
I remember the year I first fully grasped just how untrue it is.
When I was a kid, I was a snoop. Partly due to being naturally inquisitive, but primarily due to being a sinful human being, I “couldn’t” help hunting through the house to see where my mom had stashed the Christmas presents to see what I was going to get on Christmas day.
Well, one year, I was home sick from school and I found them. ALL of them.
And I opened every single one.
Toward the end of the day, I decided to do the responsible thing and rewrap them and thereby complete my “perfect” crime. The problem, however, was that I was seven or eight at the time and didn’t know how to wrap anything all that well.
Needless to say, my mother was not fooled.
I don’t remember all the details of what happened that year, but I was in a lot of trouble. There was no doubt I was a bad kid and I’d done something terrible. If Santa was real, I was getting coal for the next three Christmases for sure.
And yet, on Christmas morning, underneath the tree, what did I find? A number of gifts in my name from “Santa.”
So much for, “You better not pout, you better not cry…”
All of us have stories like this. Every single one of us knew deep down we’d get a gift from our parents at Christmas, no matter how good we really were (or weren’t).
Our experience taught us quickly that Christmas karma wasn’t really true, yet we continue to perpetuate the lie.
Whether it’s in telling kids to be good or there’ll be no Christmas presents or in our moments of debilitating anxiety over finding the right/equal gift to match or one-up whatever a family member might be buying, we get stuck in this rut of believing that our worth is determined by these things.
That we can earn or buy love through our actions.
But Jesus died to save us from Christmas karma.
Just like we try to earn our way into people’s good graces, or we try to encourage kids to “earn” their presents by being good, we try to do the same with our relationship with God.
We believe if we keep enough rules, give enough money, come to church often enough, or are simply a “good, moral” person, we’re set. God will have to give us a pass since we’re aces, right?
Yet the gospel stands against any such notion, boldly proclaiming a salvation that “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16)
On the cross, Jesus died to show us that mercy, giving us a gift we cannot possibly deserve: salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone. To put an end to any sort of notion that tells us if we just do enough, God will be pleased. To stop trying to “earn” and instead receive what is freely given.
And that gift ought to inform how we celebrate Jesus’ birth. When we perpetuate the myth of Christmas karma, what we’re really saying, without even realizing it, is that the gospel doesn’t apply to Christmastime. But Jesus died to free you from the need to compete with family over who is going to give the best gift. He died to free you from the anxiety that comes from not having the means to go on big family trips for the holidays like your neighbor’s do. And he died to release you from the need to “be good” in order to “get.”
That’s a much better reason to celebrate than fear of a lump of coal, isn’t it?