Monday, December 20, 2010

More Thoughts on Santa

After reading my recent post on Why we Celebrate Advent, my mom sent me a link to her pastor's most recent sermon.  She thought I would find it very interesting!  I did!  In fact, I was amazed at how much our thinking was running on the same track.  If this is a subject that you are pondering, you might want to read his sermon as well.  It is a bit long . . . and I can't seem to get the link to work, so I've posted it in its entirety here. 

Here Comes Santa Claus

2 Timothy 3:10-17

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church have believed for many years that if they can teach and train the children until they are twelve, that is during their formative years, the children will be Catholics for life. It appears that for the most part that is true. Slow, subtle indoctrination will almost always determine a person’s thinking for life.

The liberal, anti-god establishment in America and in the world knows this. In fact, to believe that there is a conspiracy about this matter does not mean we are weird and uneducated. There are folks who see all kinds of different conspiracies and conspirators lurking in the shadows of life. But the Bible points out that Satan has a conspiracy against God that carries eternal consequences. His plan is to deceive as many people as possible so that they will reject God’s truth and believe his lie.

Many years ago, C. S. Lewis wrote a fictional story about a senior demon named Screwtape who corresponded with a younger demon, his nephew, named Wormwood. In the story, Screwtape gives much advice to the young apprentice on how to deceive people. The story establishes that deception is the primary work and purpose of Satan’s minions, because it is the primary work of Satan.

Using Lewis’s story as a springboard, I mused the other day about what I would do to deceive people if I worked for Satan. I thought that the most effective deception must begin with children. The Great Deceiver must teach people early in life to be confused about God, about the Bible, and certainly about the true work and character of God. The best way to embed confusion in a child’s mind is to present an alternative to the truth that is very close to the real thing. To present an alternative that is dramatically different than the truth would be to arouse suspicion.

Therefore, if I would deceive the world, I would create false Christs, false-Saviors, and false gods. These saviors would have to possess many of the traits of the real Savior and the gods would have to do work that is very similar to the work of the real god. The other night I was watching a Christmas special on television when a brilliantly diabolical idea popped into my sinister mind. If I really wanted to deceive the whole world about the true God, I would create Santa Claus. I would teach little children to believe in a kind, generous, magical, gift-giving person who lives in a mythical land and knows everything about everyone. Then, when the child is older and hears about the true God who offers eternal life in Jesus Christ, who has something to do with Christmas, the child would put that truth in the same category as the fanciful Santa. In other words, it would be hard to actually believe the truth and easy to relegate truth to fanciful legend.

Of course Satan, being the master deceiver, has already developed this plan to perfection. The deception seeps into virtually every corner of the globe. And the worst promoters of this deception are the very people who claim to worship the true God and only the true God. Could the Santa myth really be confused with the true God?

History of the Right Jolly Old Elf.

So where did this guy or legend come from? Maybe it will be of some comfort to learn that the legend at least began in Christianity.

The original St. Nic was a bishop. It appears, according to some theories, that Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Sinterklaas. He was a fourth century Greek Christian bishop of Myra which was in Lycia. You will remember that Paul stopped in this port city on the southern coast of modern Turkey when he was on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:5).

Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor. In particular, he was most famous for presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. We are not surprised to learn that he was “very religious” (as secular historians would call it) from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In other words, he was born again.

We expect born again people to do acts of kindness and love. The life of Nicholas was a good example for our children. We should teach them to love Christ in the way it appears that this ancient saint did. We should teach our children to love others and care for the poor. It is comforting to think that at least the legend of Santa Claus had roots in Christianity.

Or were the legends of Christianity and paganism combined to give us a different model than Mr. Nicholas? Similar stories about gift-giving come from un-Christian sources. A nearly identical story is attributed by Greek and Byzantine folklore to Basil’s feast which is a time of exchanging gifts in Greece. Numerous parallels have been drawn between Santa Claus and the figure of Odin, a major god amongst the Germanic peoples prior to the gospel making inroads and people becoming Christians. Since many of these elements are unrelated to Christianity, there are theories regarding the pagan origins of various customs of the holiday. Many of these customs were retained after Christianity came to the Germanic people.

Some records indicate that the fictitious Odin was presented as leading a great hunting party through the sky during the native Germanic holiday of Yule. Two books from Iceland, compiled in the thirteenth century, describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances. It is easy to see how people moved from a jumping horse to Santa Claus's magical reindeer.

According to Phyllis Siefker, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. This practice, she claims, survived in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas as a result of the process of Christianization and can still be seen in the modern practice of the hanging of stockings at the chimney in some homes.

The “American” version of Santa Claus fits more closely with the pagan story. The practices connected with “Odin” came to the United States through the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. It involved hanging socks or stockings at the fireplace hoping for gifts from the magical figure. Our modern version of Santa might be more of a merging of St. Nicholas, Sinterklass, and the British character Father Christmas. In fact, it appears that Britain’s Father Christmas is our Santa Claus. Pictures dating back to the seventeenth century show him as a plump, jolly, bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He is the guy you see as “the Ghost of Christmas Present” in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The ghost was cast well as a jovial, magical character, very much like Santa should be. In some of the Nordic countries, Father Christmas is pictured delivering gifts on a Yule Goat.

Our American variations of this magical benefactor were shaped largely by Washington Irving in his work, the History of New York (1809). The name “Santa Claus” was first used in the press in 1773.

Irving took away the cleric’s robes of St. Nicholas and dressed Santa up like a rotund Dutch sailor, in a green winter coat and smoking a pipe. But maybe the most enduring picture of Santa was given to us in a poem that appeared on December 23, 1823 in the Troy, New York Sentinel. It was called “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” but we know it as The Night Before Christmas. In that story, the flying sleigh full of toys, the reindeer on the roof, the entrance through the chimney, and all the other wonderful, magical stuff become part of American culture.

Why, He Reminds Me a Lot of God!

This current agitation with the Santa myth was generated in my soul by a strange turn of events. I had just finished preaching from Matthew 18:1-6 where we learn that Jesus took a child in His arm. Furthermore, we considered Jesus’ statement to the disciples not to forbid the children, but to let them come to Him. A few nights later, I was watching a television show which presented the typical “Santa in the department store with children sitting on his lap” scene, and it hit me. This whole Santa idea is trying to steal Jesus’ thunder.

Consider the fact that Santa has some pretty amazing supernatural traits. Has anyone ever met his parents? We really don’t know anything about his ancestors or other relatives. As far as we know, he does not have an earthly mother or father. That is very much like the story of Jesus. Yes, we know that His mother was Mary, but was she not just an earthly vessel for Christ’s birth? The writer to the Hebrews said that Melchizedek, the ancient King of righteousness and King of peace, was a manifestation of God the Son (Christ). The writer describes Him like this: “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:3). Yes, that was Christ.

Has anyone been to his house or workshop? They say the guy lives at the North pole where there is always snow. Anyone who likes to live in a place like that sounds suspicious to me. They say he works with innumerable elves. Are elves like midgets or pygmies?

He owns nine magical reindeer who can circle the entire earth in minutes.

All that is so miraculous, super-human. It sounds a lot like Jesus. Jesus told the disciples that no one could go where He was going yet. “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’” (John 13:33). In that context, “Some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and, “because I am going to the Father”?’” (John 16:17).

Wherever Jesus was going, it sounds like there sure is a lot of magical stuff. John saw, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind” (Revelation 4:4-6).

How is it that Santa knows everything about everyone? I’ve heard that he is always making a list and checking it twice. That he’s going to find out who is naughty and nice. Apparently, Santa is omniscient, knowing all things about all people. The Bible teaches that the same thing is true about God. God the Father knows all. “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). Many times during the earthly ministry, God the Son reads people’s minds. One day the religious hypocrites criticized Jesus in their minds. “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’” (Matthew 9:4).

Santa has to be nearly omnipresent to deliver all those gifts. Actually Santa has to start deliveries in New Zealand and end in Hawaii traveling with the sun he’ll have about 36 hours to complete his task. He will need to deliver presents to over 200 million homes in 129,600 seconds. That figures out to 1,543 homes per second. Unless he is traveling faster than the speed of light, he can’t do it.

But God is everywhere at once. So Jeremiah asked, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:24).

Santa has some favorable personal traits. He is very beneficent.

If we think back to the St. Nicholas model, we remember that he loved to help the needy. But isn’t that just the kind of thing God does? Sadly, in the case of St. Nic, the story turned into one about a supernatural gift-giver who encourages little children to be greedy, jealous, envious, and covetous. Surely God doesn’t do that to children, does He? No, God is opposed to those evidences of the sinful flesh. But, how many parents will hear their children say on Christmas morning, “Is that all there is?” Someone needs to teach them a different model.

Santa is also just. When he makes up that list every year, he categorizes children according to their behavior ("naughty" or "nice").

Then, based on their record, Santa rewards good children with nice presents and punishes the bad children by giving them coal—or so the legend says. God also promises reward for obedience and punishment for disobedience. And God always makes perfect judgments.

But don’t make a big deal of this. Live and let live. Let the people pretend and have a good time at least once a year. So everyone concludes, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Why? Because our standard of “wonderful” misses God’s standard by a country mile. Let’s consider an alternative to all this “wonderfulness” that is about to overwhelm us.

But, As for You, Continue in What You Have Learned.

Paul taught Pastor Timothy that we should realize that followers of Christ don’t fit in the world (vv.10-13). Paul was certainly aware of the fact that he was an outcast (vv.10-12). Timothy (and we along with him) was certainly aware of Paul’s ministry (v.10). He followed after Paul’s teaching, conduct, aim in life, patience, love, steadfastness. Is there any doubt that Paul was an outstanding example of the Roman citizen? Was he not faithful to help the poor and did he not have compassion on the needy? If anything, in light of Paul’s teaching, conduct, and all that, he should have been nominated for “man of the year.” But he wasn’t.

Instead, Timothy (and we) was aware of Paul’s persecutions and sufferings (v.11). What? Why would the model citizen and neighbor have to face persecution and suffering? Paul had a bad habit of preaching against the make-believe gods of the people. The people liked their gods and thought they were not only harmless but nice and beneficial. Some merchants made a lot of money by promoting the silly legends. Therefore, because Paul preached against “Santa Claus”-like gods, the people persecuted him and tried to kill him.

Should we expect different treatment? Not according to verse twelve. Paul believed that all of us who try to honor Christ with our lives will meet the same kind of resistence. Why? What’s the problem?

Read on and discover that deceivers who are being deceived don’t like truth tellers (v.13). Evil people deceive and get deceived —and they seem to like it. In an evil age, like the one we live in, imposters deceive people because they are deceived about God and themselves. A friend of mine used to say, “The only one who can con a con man is a con man.” That is very true. But it isn’t going to get better anytime soon. Paul informed us that the whole mess will get worse and worse, more profuse as Christ’s return nears.

It appears that in these last days so many people will be deluded that it seems like the whole world really believes in Santa Claus (or whatever the myth of the moment happens to be). God warned that in the end “the coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). That is an accurate description of the world we are living in. People who love God foremost and love their neighbors will not fit into that kind of world very well.

Nevertheless, we should determine to follow what we have learned even if we don’t fit (vv.14-16). It is for us as Paul commended Timothy by saying, it is good to be acquainted with the Sacred Writings from childhood (vv.14-15). Who is teaching your children (v.14)? Timothy learned from his mother, his grandmother, and Paul. He latched on to what he was taught and never let it go. Some experts conclude that our children’s character is shaped by the time they are six. The Catholic church says, “Let us teach your children until they are twelve and they will never let go of the teaching.” If your children are being taught by the world, we are all in trouble.

Furthermore you might want to wonder what your children are learning (v.15). Timothy was taught the sacred writings which led him to salvation. When we teach our children the Bible, they soon begin to see conflicts between what the Bible says and what the world teaches. Not only is it good to teach the Bible because it leads to eternal salvation, but also because it shapes our children and equips them to serve God.

The wonderful news in all of this is that the Sacred Writings are supernaturally empowered to change lives (vv.16-17). All Scripture is the expression of God. Therefore, it is profitable. It is profitable because it teaches us so that we can know God, know ourselves, know our world and develop discernment. It reproves us: that is, it lays down evidence that refutes error thereby rebuking us for dabbling in it. It corrects: not only does it point out the error, but it tells us how to get back on the right path. It trains us: that is, it disciplines us in righteousness.

The result of learning and applying Scripture is that God’s people are able to serve Him. The Bible makes us competent, or proficient and qualified to do God’s work. The Bible equips us. It completes our preparation, making us fully adequate to serve God.

The more familiar we are with God’s Word, the more it washes us and indwells us, the less comfortable we become with the gods of this world. Start your children on that path of discomfort early in life because that is the path that leads to the Celestial City.

December 12, 2010

Sunday Morning Service
Series: Christmas
Community Baptist Church
643 S. Suber Road
Greer, SC 29650
© 2010 David J. Whitcomb


tlmalcolm said...

I'd like to read the semon but the link only took me to Google mail.

Noel said...

very very good points there. The story of Jesus' birth is too wonderful to let a fake Santa have any place in a Christian's Christmas! Have a blessed Christmas and thank you so much for sharing all of this with us :)

Donna G. said...

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Kristin said...

Great sermon! Thanks for sharing. If you take the words in Santa and rearrange them it spells Satan. Just a thought.

Mrs. Patterson said...

Fantastic! Love this! Great sermon! SO true! We don't do Santa at our house for 2 years now, and it was a VERY hard thing to break after doing it...we literally had to sit down and tell the kids we were liars. It was very hard. However, we still exchange gifts, and they do get a stocking, but they know it is a fun surprise from us. We have many friends who still do Santa, and we don't judge AT just wasn't something we felt comfortable with anymore. :) Merry Christmas, and thanks for sharing! I liked this a lot! ;D--Sara

Jules said...

I've linked this post and your one about why you celebrate Advent in a recent post on my blog. Hope that's okay. May you and your family experience the wonder of Christmas this year. Blessings, Jules

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