Separating the attributes of Jesus from those of Santa this time of year can be tricky.
Growing up as an American kid in a Christian household, I was told that “Jesus was the reason for the season” but that big ol’ jolly guy in the red suit was definitely a reason, too. Always the inquisitive one, I had figured out by about age five or six that Santa Claus was just a legend and commercialized character, but that did not stop me from wanting all the perks on Christmas morning that came along with believing. And yet there was still a magic about the whole Christmas experience – although I don’t think it came from a heart filled with wonder over the birth of the savior of the world. Sometimes it surprises me that although I knew from a very young age that Santa Claus was not real, the idea of Jesus as a man who once walked this earth and now lived in Heaven remained very real to me. Now as a twenty-something adult, I am going through the process of stripping away the pop culture and Americanized version of who I believe Jesus is, and trying to figure out who he truly is.
I am learning that in order to truly follow Christ, I actually have to be in intimate relationship with him. I have to come to him with every aspect of my life and being asking him, “How do you want to use this?” I expect him not only to listen, but to answer. I do not believe Jesus wants me to jump into his lap, list off the things I want, and then be on my merry way. He is eager to give me good gifts, but he wants me to understand why he is giving them in the first place. He wants me to know that he values me, that he is proud of me, and that because I am loved by him, that love should overflow into my life and how I love others.
Whether I am naughty or nice, I God will not move me from one column to another. There is nothing I can do that will make him end his pursuit of me. Grace does not mean that I have the license to run around and make foolish decisions while expecting a pat on the back, but whenever I screw up (which is often), he is still there waiting as to ask for his forgiveness and then keep moving forward. There is nothing I can do to make him love me more, or want to give me more presents. His view of me always has been and always will be the same: I am his creation, and because he made me just as I am, he loves me just as I am.
I have discovered that there IS a wonder, magic, and mystery to this man Jesus of Nazareth. I do not have to wait anxiously for him to come around once a year, and wait with bated breath to see what side of the list I landed on this year. I can meet with him daily, and ask with confidence what good gifts he has in store for me. A real, interactive relationship with the living Christ is worth far more than any material thing I could have ever asked for from Santa Claus.
Do you struggle with the idea of a God who rewards you if you are “naughty” or “nice?” How does your view of God play into the Christmas season?
[This post was originally published elsewhere as a guest post in 2009]