by Melinda Little
“You better watch out! You better not cry! You better not pout! I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town,” begins the modern-day Christmas song. Santa Claus is an icon of American culture. He keeps track of all the good and bad little boys and girls. I confess I may have threatened my children once (or, possibly, twice) that Santa was watching them so they’d better behave “or Santa will give you coal for Christmas!” It was quite an effective child rearing tool, especially during the month of December.
Of course, most of us have told our children about Santa just as our parents told us. We’ve visited him or his helper at a local mall (or at Breakfast with Santa right here at STE), sent letters (or texts) to him with our personal Christmas lists. We have even received special gifts from him under our Christmas trees. I am also fairly certain none of you received (nor did your children receive) a lump a coal in lieu of the things that were on your lists, threats notwithstanding! As it is almost Christmas, I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast Jesus, the Christmas Child, and Santa, the Christmas icon.
So in the spirit of Christmas and fun, let’s start with the simple things: clothing and looks. Santa Claus wears a red suit trimmed in fur, and is gray-headed with a white beard. We learned this from the animated Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer movie in 1964. Since Jesus started his ministry at age 30 and was crucified and buried at about 33 years of age, and even though he is often pictured with a beard, it is highly unlikely that his beard was white or his hair was gray. We also know the climate in Israel likely would not have supported a fur-trimmed outfit. That brings up another point: Jesus was from Nazareth and lived his whole life in ancient Israel. While the boundaries in the Middle East have changed, it is still a long way from the North Pole where everyone knows Santa lives.
From the Bible we also know Jesus did not wear red. In several passages we discover that Jesus’ garments were often very white and radiant. For example, in Mark 9: 2 – 3 (ESV),
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”
While Santa travels in a sleigh powered by eight tiny reindeer and enters towns across the world in the secret of night, we know from Matthew 21:8 – 9 (ESV) that Jesus made his triumphal entry to Jerusalem in the full light of day before a large crowd of spectators sitting on a donkey as people threw palms along His way while shouting:
“Hooray for the Son of David!
God bless the one who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hooray for God
in heaven above!”
While all of that is interesting, how else do Jesus and Santa differ? I think the key difference, besides Jesus being God (kind of a big one) and Santa (at best) being a super human with some fancy reindeer, is that Jesus represents grace and the new covenant while Santa represents the law and the old covenant. Even though the Santa we know is a modern day creation, his actions of list checking and keeping track of good and bad deeds with the promise of a reward only if one has been good and punishment if one is bad is very Pharisaical. It is in stark contrast to the promises of Christ who brought grace and salvation to this world. In John 3:16–21 (ESV) we are told that Christ did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save us.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
That is not only the best Christmas gift ever, it is the best gift of all time and easily beats that pair of roller skates and shiny bicycle that Santa gave you. Yes, Virginia, I think Jesus is way better than Santa! As we come closer to Christmas Day:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:2 – 4 (ESV)
Merry Christmas! God bless us everyone!