Saturday, December 6, 2008

Santa Claus is Dangerous

What is Christmas truly about? If you ask the average Joe you'll probably hear that its about showing Christmas spirit or giving gifts or eating too much or seeing family. Earlier this week on a kid show my daughter was watching a frog explained that he had a star on his tree because every year the biggest prettiest star comes out for Christmas, or something like that. As a culture we have forgotten why we have a holiday on Dec. 25 every year.

Look at the things that we actually focus on during Christmas, family gatherings (not bad but not the point), giving gifts (they do serve a point but not the materialistic insanity that we have going on), Christmas Tree's (who remembers what point they serve), and lots of Christmas movies (that have nothing to do with the real reason for Christmas).

The real purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. That's it, that's all. But people who care little about Jesus or who actively hate Him still want to celebrate Christmas, no matter how much debt it puts them in. So I think that we as those who love Jesus should find ways to celebrate Jesus' birthday distinctively. Start some family traditions that are focused on Christ. For example my family tries to make Christmas feel like a birthday party for Jesus. We have a birthday cake, we sing the Happy Birthday song (I know it sounds awfully cheesy), we put up happy birthday banners, all aimed at keeping the main thing the main thing.

Now I want to share the really controversial thing that we do. We aren't teaching our kids about Santa Claus. Yes I know many of you are cringing right now (all both of you) but I really think that Santa is the chief distraction. In most American homes Santa has replaced Jesus. Think about how many cartoons kids will watch this year about Santa compared with cartoons about Jesus' birth. Santa is dangerous because he draws our kids hearts away from Jesus and focuses them on a fat guy offering them toys (sounds like a guy you don't want in your neighborhood).

So I want to challenge everybody to reconsider Santa and to be intentional about having a Christ-centered Christmas.

PS - the original version of this post was a lot more hostile and was originally titled Santa Claus is a tool of the devil, Edna talked me out of it.


Joshua Owen said...

Jamie, thanks for the timely reminder of the "true meaning of Christmas." How many times do we hear that phrase - "the true meaning of Christmas"? As you pointed out, our culture is not agreed on what that "true meaning" is, though most are sure that it is not materialism, glitz and glitter (at least according to the Christmas shows). I'm glad that in God's common grace people can at least see that greed is evil. Of course, as John Owen would remind us, it is only a special work of the Holy Spirit that will enable them to truly see and delight in Christ as the heart of Christmas.

I'm not sure how I feel about the birthday parties for Jesus. Renae asked me about that this year and I hesitated because I don't want to trivialize the incarnation. But I'm open to persuasion if you would like to elaborate on your practice and reasoning, Jamie.

I try to read at least one book related to the incarnation at this time of the year. This year I have found two (they are hard to come by, you know). I would commend one to you for personal devotion or for your family (not really for the little ones, though). Nancy Guthrie, editor, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008). 142 pages. Retail: $12.99. You can get it through Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service for about $9.00:

This book is a collection of meditations on the incarnation from such worthies as Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, and others. There are 22 meditations. Each is about 3-5 pages. I think I'll use a portion of one as a post to give everyone a taste.


John Lucas said...

Jamie, while I am usually in agreement with you, on this issue I must pull away and state my disagreement. You are correct that much of today's culture and lost the true meaning of Christmas. And yes, we would all agree that believers must be those who stand for truth in an age of falsehood. I agree that Santa Claus and other Christmas imagery has the danger of distraction for believers. However you overstep that line and make a strawman that is easy to blow down. Santa and other Christmas folklore is not the issue; the issue is inherent cravings of materialism and idolatry. But that does not neccessitate throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

In our home we will celebrate the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as the central focus of our Christmas time as a family. But we will also have a visit from Santa Claus for our childre. I see no danger in that. Abe Piper on his blog this week stated it well when he pointed out that he worries about teaching his kids about Santa Claus in the same way he worries about teaching them of Rumplestilskins ... he doesnt. Today we took our kids to a Christmas parade downtown that included Santa Claus. We did not run from the scene hiding our eyes. We did not get in the car and promptly explain to our three year old and two year old that Santa is a secular model of pagan idolatry and we should pity these folks that idolize him. We simply enjoyed the event and looked for opportunities to share the gospel with folks who need Christ more than a fat man climbing down their chimney.

This issue should be left as a matter of conscience for individual believers. Heeding your wife's refrain was a good call because to assert demonic activity would alienate many faithful Christians in our congregations love Jesus and worship Jesus alone, but allow a little fantasy in their home. If we are going to take such a staunch position, would not the next step be to remove all fairy tales from our children's reading list.

I do not believe the problem lies in a fat man wearing a red jumpsuit, assuming that the Christian family remember and guard against the danger of idolatry that can creep into the heart. Yes, in most homes today, Santa is the god of Dec. 25. But I am not so much concerned about removing Santa from their vocabulary as I am proclaiming Christ crucified who brings true hope, meaning and fulfillment. Santa seems to be nothing more than the whipping boy of an epidemic that exists in the heart of men 365 days out of the year. But as a matter of conscience, I choose to preach the Christ of Christmas, and then watch three little imagination bubble with excitement as they enjoy the fantasy of Santa Claus.

Jamie Fugate said...

First, responding to Josh we do not have the birthday party elements apart from an explanation of the incarnation - God entering our world by taking on human flesh - we are celebrating the incarnation - I expect that as the girls get older that the party will get less cheesy and the explanation will take more and more of the focus, but I have small children and its very exciting hearing my three-year-old telling people about Jesus' birthday coming up soon.

Second, John wow man you really took my little Santa post really seriously, I didn't think that I would be able to rouse that kind of passion,I mean both comments were longer than my post.

But in my defense identifying the real issue as the hearts longing for sin and true hatred for God does not mean that we are not to be careful to remove the things that feed that longing and hatred. For a person struggling to fight the sin of greed telling them that the real problem is they hate God isn't much help unless we help them learn to live without idolizing money - we still remove the idol.

For the sake of clarity we are not hiding Esther from Santa - she watched the Polar express already this year, we are going to a parade this saturday that I'm certain will include Santa. The point I was making is that we are choosing not to emphasize presents or Santa and choosing to emphasize Christ instead, thats all I was getting at.

Also I think that we need to be honest that the enemy of our souls is pleased that the symbol of Christmas has become Santa not the entrance of the Savior into the world on His mission of mercy, or that at Easter we focus on the Bunny and eggs instead of a risen Christ. I think he rejoices over this slighting of Jesus.

Love you guys, sorry if this didn't make much sense but arguing with you two was never wise for me.

Joshua Owen said...

Jamie, I can see how this could reinforce the meaning of Christmas for the youngest children. I guess I'm looking for more ways to help my children understand the humiliation of Christ in the incarnation - the grandeur of His person and the lowliness of His human estate.

John, we do not incorporate Santa into our Christmas celebration as a family. Our kids still watch many of the Christmas movies that have Santa in them. But we don't tell them that Santa brings them presents on Christmas. They get enough of that from every other angle. We try to center their attention on the Christ-child and His mission, but even as hard as we try we find the legend/myth of Santa Claus still captures their imaginations more than the incarnation. I agree with you that the heart of the issue is the heart. I also agree with Jamie that if I can remove a temptation from their lives I will.

The story of St. Nicholas is a great illustration of Christian love. We have taught this to our children. Our oldest really seems to appreciate knowing the truth behind the legend. The legend itself has many lessons for our children, but it becomes such a distraction since Santa is the only personage that our culture showcases. It is certainly a matter of conscience how one incorporates Santa into their family Christmas. I draw the line, however, with having Santa visit the church (which is something I have had to address in a previous church).

John Lucas said...

Guys, I love you both and everything written is done in a spirit of charity and love. Jamie I sincerely apologize if I sounded cutting, but I do see serious flaws in your reasoning and used this as an opportunity to respond. I will respond to your post, but let me direct your attention to two helpful blogs. Justin Taylor has a post dealing with the value of fantasy and myth to the imagination on his blog last week (i think Friday). And RC Sproul on the Ligoneer blog had a great post on Marley's response to Scrooge and its implications to much Christianly criticism of Christmas. I commend that to you and Josh with this quote from Sproul dealing with our discussion: "Doesn't Santa Claus paganize or at least trivialize Christmas? He's a myth, and his very mythology casts a shadow over the sober historical reality of Jesus. Not at all. Myths are not necessarily bad or harmful. Every society creates myths. They are a peculiar art form invented usually to convey a message that is deemed important by the people. When a myth is passed off as real history, that is fraud. But when it serves a different purpose it can be healthy and virtuous. Kris Kringle is a mythical hero, not a villain. He is pure fiction -- but a fiction used to illustrate a glorious truth."

I will simply respond to the arguement regarding removing "idols" or distractions from the home. This is a slippery slope that I navigate carefully, because hypocricy can be the dangerous bedmate. If you argue that you are removing the idol that detracts from Christ, then should viewing Christmas movies that focus on Santa or other folklore be acceptable? Should we go to events like a parade where we know the ending climax will be jolly ol' Saint Nick? That seems to be leaving a residue of the idol in the eyes of our children. And let's remember, one person's idol is another person's mantlepiece. My television has the capacity to become an idol, not by its own power, but by my heart's longing to worship it with my time.

You both have thought about this issue and made a decision based on solid conviction, and I commend you and will defend your decision against any criiticism. But it does not have clear biblical warrant that would constitute a charge of potential idolatry to those on the other side as myself. Let us use great care in our language and exercise charity on issues that have no clear biblical exhortation as this one. I love you guys.
(PS, Jamie I will not touch the dangers and brashness in your original title removed by your wife's council :))

Jamie Fugate said...

John I think we move past myth and fantasy when we tell our kids that Santa is real and that in some sense he is involved in their lives.

Also how can a fan of Driscoll be offended when I simply consider being a little provocative.

Love ya bro.

John Lucas said...

Jamie, don't miss my point. This is a matter of conscience. Your post is not flawed b/c you are arguing against a secular Christmas tradition. Your post is flawed because you imply any home that retains such tradition is promoting paganism. I am not offended and I don't mind provocative and jarring rhetoric, but it must be done in a way that is charitable as well. You draw a line in the sand that has no biblical warrant. I would be curious to know if you would use such a hard line in your pulpit with the families you nurture and shepherd week in and week out? The possibility of idolatry is there I grant you; but if we are going to remove all the potential idols for our children I expect to see your television and playstation pitched into your front yard tonight :)

Corey Reynolds said...

Hey Jamie, I'm with you, man, let's just shoot this Satan Claws character and get back to Jesus!

Gotta say, though, you're right about Jesus birthday parties being lame. That's a stinker of a tradition that needs to go down hard. I know why people do it, but we need something else.

Actually, though, I think we have something else. We already do an awesome job of celebrating really. Now, this was something I thought about last week while preparing a sermon on Isaiah 9 and it just kind of hit me by surprise. I think that materialistic gift-giving, pigging out, and having boisterous parties with family and friends might just be the best way to celebrate this awesome occasion!

In Isaiah 9:3, God talks about the joy of the coming of this Child. He says that it's like the joy of a harvest or or dividing the spoil after a victorious battle. Now, when you think about it, those are some big joys! Your barns are full after a year of slowly trickling down. Time for a huge feast to celebrate! Or, you have a house full of brand new stuff like clothes, swords, wives (yeah!), etc. from the spoil. Those are some pretty high times!

Also, verse 2 talks about people dwelling in darkness seeing a great light. I love it how we celebrate Christmas in the heart of winter. It even makes us look forward to otherwise deadly snowfalls because we have the biggest party of the year at that time. Who cares when he was actually born, December 25 is the perfect time to make the celebration match the mood of the timing of the coming of the Christ.

So, what am I suggesting? Have a big awesome party with lots of gifts and food and loved ones and really cultivate the feelings of joy and happiness that that brings. Then, "look along the beam" so to speak (C.S. Lewis, Meditations in a Toolshed) and show your family how these feelings are analogous to the way the world ought to feel about the coming of the Christ. Do your candlelight services, your reading of the Christmas story, your prayers, and all the rest, but don't forget that the big celebration part helps the worship as well.