Thursday, December 8, 2022

Santagod?


Dear Friends,

Please don’t get me wrong here. I love Santa Claus. I’ll never forget the year he brought me a genuine Red Ryder BB Gun and I still have my old Structo steel toy truck he left for me under the tree. I even have the Gilbert Erector Set that Santa gave me, but the Gilbert Chemistry Set disappeared shortly after the incident involving the stink bomb in my sister’s bedroom. 

As I grew into my teens, Santa apparently became very concerned over my personal hygiene habits because my stocking would be filled with deodorant, toothpaste and dental floss. Instead of finding an exciting new toy under the tree, I’d find a shirt and a package of underwear from Sears. In my middle-age years, Santa brought me books, knowing how much I like to read. But today, as I’ve transitioned into my senior years, Santa brings me industrial-sized packages of toilet paper and paper towels from Costco. No. I’m not kidding about that.

But the Santa I knew and loved as a boy never overshadowed the Baby in the manger. The focus of our celebration was not on the tree in our living room but on what took place in our church. The Nativity set my grandmother gave me when I was nine is on the bookshelf next to me as I write this. She gave it to me to keep the Christ child in my thoughts during the Christmas season – it still does. This was the 1950's and our family was typical of the believing, church-going families of those days. 

Times are different today. We’ve enhanced and expanded the Santa legend today until he has morphed into God. He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows if you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake. Santa Claus is omniscient – all knowing. He knows when you've been good or bad. Santa is omnipresent – he’s everywhere on Christmas eve. Santa fulfills the wishes of good little boys and girls because he is all powerful – he’s omnipotent. Santa brings miracles! All you have to do is to believe!

Those three underlined characteristics are the attributes of God and God alone. But when we’ve imprinted God’s characteristics onto Santa Claus and elevated Santa to be our Christmas deity, we can’t blame our children or grandchildren for praying to their Santagod for toys and other cool stuff. Take a moment and look up Exodus 20:3. Maybe we need to turn the Santagod back into his human namesake: Saint Nicholas. 

In the 4th century, Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra which was located in the territory of Lycia. In New Testament days, Lycia was a province of the Roman Empire and was visited by Paul on one of his evangelistic journeys. Acts 27:5-6

Saint Nicholas has been remembered as a man of great faith and his compassion for others. His parents died when he was young, leaving him with a large amount of money. Many bishops in those days used their position in the church to gain great wealth and property. Nicholas used his position as bishop to give away his personal wealth to those in need. He used his money to redeem those sentenced to death for their failure to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor and was known for giving gifts of food, clothes and shoes to children.

During the reformation, the Protestant reformers rejected nearly all the saints but kept Saint Nicholas, and in remembrance of this Saint at Christmas, children received gifts. Sinter Klass” is Dutch for Saint Nicholas, and Dutch settlers brought Sinter Klass to the English-speaking world where we spelled and pronounced it as “Santa Claus.”

At about the same time in Victorian England that Sinter Klass was introduced, a popular phrase “cast your bread upon the waters” was in vogue. This is Ecclesiastes 11:1 and because of the vagueness of the Hebrew it has been translated several different ways. In the context of the scripture the best translation may be “Do good wherever you go. After awhile, the good you do will come back to you.” (CEV) Casting our bread upon the water seems to be an exercise in futility resulting in a waste of good bread, but Solomon’s imagery tells us to give in faith not knowing what the actual results will be but knowing that you can expect a return in this life or the next. Proverbs 11:18; Galatians 6:9 

We joyfully and liberally give of our time, efforts, finances and our material things to others even when we don’t see results and even when our generosity does not seem to be doing any good. Matthew 5:44; Luke 14:13-14 That is not “Santa” giving. Thanks be to God, that’s Christ-like “Saint” giving.  

Santa Claus says: “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

Saint Nicholas said: “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.