Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Scattered Ramblings on Comparing Jesus to Santa Claus

My pastor in last Sunday’s sermon was comparing Jesus to Santa Claus.  My pastor was actually seeing similarities between the two, but others have said that there are differences.

Santa Claus makes a list, checks it twice, and is going to find out who’s naughty or nice.  Christians who believe that God manifests a particular kind of grace say that God does not act that way.  For them, God is nicer than that old legalist Santa Claus!

Commentator P.J. O’Rourke said that God was a Republican, whereas Santa Claus was a Democrat:
“I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.

“God is an elderly or, at any rate, middle aged male, a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well being of the disadvantaged. He is politically connected, socially powerful and holds the mortgage on literally everything in the world. God is difficult. God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God’s heavenly country club.

“Santa Claus is another matter. He’s cute. He’s nonthreatening. He’s always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without the thought of quid pro quo. He works hard for charities, and he’s famously generous to the poor. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.”  From here.

For O’Rourke, Santa Claus is nicer than God.  The thing is, though, Santa is too nice to be true!
After I came home from church on Sunday, I read a post by Hebrew Bible scholar Pete Enns on legends concerning St. Nicholas.  Enns quoted a card that said: “Nicholas saved young women from slavery, protected sailors, spared innocents from execution, provided grain in a famine and rescued a kidnapped boy.”  Later in the post, Enns glibly remarks that “For ‘Jolly Old St. Nick’ to have pulled off things like standing between a slave owner and his property, or an executioner and his victim, or go about unkidnaping a boy, he was probably a very brave man indeed with better things on his mind than making sure nice children get an X-Box or an iPad 3.”

I did not know about those legends about St. Nick while I was sitting in church listening to the sermon.  But I was thinking as my pastor compared Jesus to Santa Claus, “Is God concerned about whether a kid gets an X-Box?”  My pastor was saying, though, that Jesus brings other kinds of gifts.  He did not elaborate on that a great deal, but one can think of examples: forgiveness of sin, peace with God, joy, and the hope that God will one day set up a just world order.

I can probably critique all sorts of comparisons between God and Santa Claus.  There are places in the Bible in which God does appear to meticulously scrutinize people’s behavior; I would say, though, that God shows us grace and allows us to grow.  I do not believe that God is as callous as P.J. O’Rourke’s comment seems to indicate.  There are indications in Scripture that God is deeply concerned for the poor.  But God does not always intervene as we think he should, for whatever reason.  On Pete Enns comments, yes, that is quite profound!  I would not say that there is anything wrong with wanting an X-Box or iPad3, though, and yet one should evaluate those things within the proper context.

Anyway, those are some ramblings!

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