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Monday, December 24, 2012

Is This Holiday Big Enough For Both Santa And Jesus?

My favorite sister in-law's favorite adjective is, "nice." She says it quite often when she watches her children perform. And it is the word that most aptly describes Christmas for the middle class. We give nice gifts and have a nice time with relatives. We dare not venture into discussions on controversial or substantive topics less nice is sacrificed on passion's alter.

Nice is at the center of a Christmas that revolves around Santa Claus. After all, Santa is all about giving nice gifts to those on the nice list. Santa is a jolly old man whose laugh is infectious. But is nice at the center of any Christmas that revolves around Jesus?

Some would like to think so and with good reason. At Christmas, we have the baby Jesus who never cries who was born to God could dwell with and redeem man. What could be nicer than that? Certainly, Santa, with all of his glee, could never compete with the baby Jesus. He could never compete that is unless we put the birth of Jesus into its proper context. Why was Jesus, the Son of God, born of a woman?  One reason was so that God could dwell with man. But there are some other factors here as well. One of those factors can be found in Isaiah 53:3ff where the coming Messiah is called a "man of sorrows." Think about it. Jeus came to bear the sorrows of the world and to suffer and die on the cross so that he could raise again from the dead.

Now, though the good ending could make this story nice, what led to Jesus' ministry and eventual death could never qualify as nice. Rather, Jesus being born to have no physical attractiveness, be rejected and despised by people, be acquainted with and bearing great sorrow and grief, was to be struck down in our place, and to experience the punishment for the sins of many. In short, this coming of Jesus was not to be nice, it was to involve a great amount of unjust suffering. And all of this ugliness was there to serve as an indictment on us.

Furthermore, those who claim to believe and follow Jesus are called to imitate Jesus as a "man of sorrows" in some degree. Jesus did not take on our dispair and ugliness so that life could be forever nice. As the apostles discovered, suffering is a Christian's call to duty.

So how do we give recognition to the not nice part of why Jesus was born? Do we do justice to Jesus' sufferings by mixing Santa with Jesus so that Jesus becomes like Santa far more than Santa becomes like Jesus?

See, we can celebrate both Jesus and Santa together at Christmas without doing gross violence to the story of one or the other.Santa is all about joy over the accumulation of things and consumerism. Santa is about rewarding those who deserve to receive gifts. And the more Santa becomes the focal point at Christmas, the more our celebration of Christmas becomes a tribute to ourselves. That is because Christmas is about how we are nice to others in the giving of gifts. And those gifts are given to those who are nice rather than naughty.

But the more Jesus is the center of Christmas, then the whole story of why he came and our state of being comes into play. Here, we must see that when Christmas revolves around Jesus, mankind's and our own dirty laundry must be fully aired in public for us to get the true meaning of Christmas. And our call to imitate, in one way or another, Christ as he bore sorrow, pain, and rejection of others.

We can celebrate both Jesus and Santa at Christmas without destroying the meaning of Christmas. If we fix our gaze on Santa, we must put Jesus' future suffering out of sight. If our focus is on Jesus, then all of the "nicenss" and the phoney idealism attributed to him will make Jesus invisible.

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