This year, children in the United States are asking Santa for clothes and food. The United States Postal Service has a “secret Santa” program that attempts to connect letters written to Santa with people willing to donate such gifts. Honestly, it’s not a bad idea for a program, all things concerned. Two heartbreaking things spiral out of this story:
First is the obvious: so many children feel the need to ask Santa for basic needs. For many, the cause of this need is economic hardship in the family. For at least some, the need is due to terrible, selfish parenting. When we hear of a child that simply wants a meal for Christmas, our hearts break.
The other heartbreaking thing is the need for Santa in the first place. “If we are the body, where are His hands reaching?”
Santa gives gifts based on perceived merit. Santa says we can do something to deserve gifts. The flipside of this tyrannical gift-giving is that if you don’t get good gifts, you must deserve nothing. If a child is begging for a coat in her letter to Santa, what will she think of herself when Santa doesn’t deliver?
Melanney, 9, asked Santa for a coat and boots. “I have been a very good girl this year,” she wrote.
There is no love in what Santa does. He looks for deserving people and gives them the gifts they deserve. That’s not love; that’s paying wages.
The truth is, we don’t deserve any gifts from Santa. We are all terrible sinners. We are selfish, we are weak, we are evil by nature. To say that we have to work to deserve something is nothing more than works righteousness — and if we’re honest, we come to the conclusion we deserve less than nothing.
Isn’t what Jesus offers so much better? He gives gifts freely. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8) Did you see that? God doesn’t just give gifts. He lavishes them. Does that mean we’ll always have what we want? Thankfully, no. But we do have what we need: forgiveness.
And we, as the church, long to reflect God’s lavish giving.
Santa is helpless to bring aid to those children who are suffering. Nonexistent beings usually are. Even if he did exist, he would offer no comfort and no love. He would give to those who had done good… and what rules would he judge by?
Jesus isn’t helpless. He gives freely. And he has empowered us with his Gospel. He has freed us of our sins and set us free, asking nothing from us. Instead, we want to proclaim thanks. We want to help others. Freely.
And isn’t that better than Santa, anyway?