It is a classic Christmas song. Santa Clause is comin’ to town and you had better watch out ’cause he is making a list. So no pouting, No crying. Be on your best behavior or else. Sadly that kind of thinking is all too common among followers of Jesus. I am borrowing one little bit of content from John Lynch, one of the authors of the The Cure. He addresses how we are programmed from childhood to default to performance theology. He calls it the “Santa Claus is Coming to Town theology”.
You better watch out
Better not cry
Better not pout
I am telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He’s making a list….checking it twice…three times…every day
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He sees you when your sleeping, nows when your awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.
Oh, he’s watching. Waiting for you to screw up so you will get coal instead of a bicycle. You had better please him. And we teach our kids to put on the mask and be something they are not. Because Santa Claus is comin’ to town. This omniscient being who is judging our every deed is coming to town…and we learn to do the dance early. Buck up…be good. Don’t cry. Don’t pout. Santa Claus is coming to town. (©Copyright 2003, William Thrall, Bruce McNicol, John Lynch. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.)
He is exactly right. We learn that we get good things and receive love only when we are good and do good things. Santa is pleased (and we later substitute God) when we obey. So we learn early. We had better be good. Or least fool everyone around us to think that we are being good.
Ask any child this Christmas if they are being good and I will wager you will not get this response.
“Well, to be honest, I am really struggling with the whole being nice thing. I have actually been pouty and I cried yesterday. It just isn’t working out this Christmas so I suspect the toys will have to wait.”
Nope. What you hear is the lie that we learn early and too often keep handy in our arsenal for a lifetime.
“Oh yeah. I am being really good! Or at least better than my sister and brother.”
I remember (vaguely) the tension of the Santa Claus years. I knew I hadn’t really changed much. I tried to modify my behavior for a week or two leading up to Christmas but I knew I had failed to really be good. I learned a couple of things early. I learned how hard it is to change behavior by sheer willpower and I learned that I could fool Santa by living a lie. I did not learn about grace. That maybe Santa gave me gifts because of who I was and maybe he came to my house because I was lovable instead of rewarding me for what I had done to please him. I figured I had fooled him and to get the good stuff I would have to continue to hide the little boy who broke an ornament and then hid it.
Isn’t that too often how we view God? We had better not cry. Better not sin. I’m telling you why. Jesus is coming to town. He’s making a list and He is checking it not once or twice but every moment of every day. God knows if you’ve been bad or good so if you want to be healed or happy or prosperous you had better be good for goodness sake. If I do mess up I am scared to death that I will get a bad life or miss all that God has for me. So I put on the mask and try to be really good for Jesus. If I can fool those around me maybe, just maybe, I can fool God too.
Satan sells the lie so convincingly. And we buy it for months and years and even decades.
But God and Santa are very different in their approach. God does not keep a list. He is not impressed by our hernia inducing straining to control sin.
You know the verse well.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)
Jesus offers us so many gifts. But the one we seem to have the hardest time unwrapping is the gift of grace. The gift that allows us to become who God desires us to become as we simply trust Him and quit trying to be “good” for goodness sake. We are saved by grace and faith in Christ. We become like Him by the same radical strategy. Faith that He has changed us into a new creation. And understanding the grace that gives us good gifts even when we don’t deserve them.
Don’t let the Santa Claus theology live into the New Year. Go straight to the gift of grace that Jesus left under the Cross. Open it. And clothe yourself in His salvation, acceptance and love. It may be the best gift you have ever given yourself.