We don’t do Santa Claus at my house. This is probably not surprising for many of you, since it’s not unheard of for Christians to not do the whole Santa thing (or if we do, we tend to do it with caveats in place: “Remember, it’s just a fun game for Christmastime”). While some parents are afraid their kids will accuse them of lying to them in the future, our reasons for not being all about Santa—unless it somehow involves the legend of St. Nicholas slapping Arius across the face at the council of Nicea1—have more to do with Calvin and Hobbes.
If you’re not familiar, Calvin and Hobbes, which starred a six year old boy and his stuffed tiger, may well be one of the greatest comic strips to ever appear in a newspaper. In the strip, Calvin and Hobbes discussed philosophy, explored the time-space continuum, and waged war against Suzie Derkins, the girl who lived down the street as the founding and sole members of G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS).
But sure enough, Christmas would come, and Calvin would be faced with a challenge: Can he be good enough to merit presents from Santa?
He would concoct silly plans, make deals with Santa, justify his behavior, all to ultimately give into his darker impulses and beaned 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.
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. We behave as though he were some sort of mythical, malevolent Santa Claus figure who insists we be good in order to get a gift, and 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. He 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. He 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.