typorama(23)

The Bad Theology of Santa Clause Comin’ to Town

The conversation from the backseat was illuminating. I quizzed the grand-kids about what they asked Santa to bring this year. After telling me their wish they followed up with this statement.

“Unless we have been bad. Then maybe we won’t get it until next year.”

I smiled and assured them that they were not bad. Parents have dangled that Santa “nice list” carrot to get good behavior for generations. Santa Clause is comin’ to town and you had better watch out because he is making a list. So no pouting, No crying. Better be on your best behavior or else. And that performance trap learned as a child waiting for Santa can also profoundly and dangerously impact Christians.  I am borrowing some content from my dear friend 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.

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. Instead of learning that that Santa gave me gifts because of who I was. That he delivered gifts 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 under the couch.

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.

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 survive 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. It is a gift based on the performance of Jesus and not your own. Relax and receive it this Christmas.