Dec. 17, 2011
1 John 4:7-12
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
I was at the Children’s Christmas Program practice this morning. One of the Dad’s shared how he had a tough Dad moment this week. His 9-year-old daughter came, looked him in the eye and asked him if Santa is real. She used a line that he often says to her, “Tell me the real truth.”
He felt very much on the spot and decided that developing long-term trust with his daughter was the most important thing to teach at that moment. So, he told her the real truth, “No.” This was followed by disappointment and crying. He tried to explain how he was trying to develop this circle of trust with her, that he would tell her the truth and vice versa. While I’m not really sure, I’m guessing she heard very little after, “No.”
Dad proceeded to tell me that he wanted her to understand is that Santa is based on the tradition of St. Nicholas, which is a great way to re-direct this question. Tradition says a man name Nicholas came from a wealthy family. As soon as he received his inheritance, Nicholas began to give it away to the poor and needy. He loved giving gifts to children, which he did in secret. He also helped families who were unable to financially provide for their daughter’s dowries.
Of course, the 9-year-old daughter wasn’t ready to hear about this either. The story started a conversation with a few parents about whether their kids still believe and how we discovered there wasn’t a real Santa.
I know that I can’t buck secular culture and pull less emphasis away from Santa. That’s impossible. So, how can Christians leverage Santa to help us explore the real reason for the season?
Let’s rediscover some of the original traditions involving Santa Clause. In some cultures, Santa is called Kris Kringle, which comes from the Dutch word Christkindl, meaning “Christ child.” While Kris Kringle is often used interchangeable with Santa Claus, it was originally created in an attempt to refocus people’s attention on Jesus as the real gift-giver. Likewise, the tradition of St. Nicholas is rooted in honest, Christian values: love, helping the less fortunate, giving rather than getting, generosity, etc.
Yes, Gift-giving is rooted in the gifts from the magi. But ultimately, gift-giving goes back to what God gave for each of us in Jesus Christ. If we love the gift Jesus gives us, then we are mandated to express that love to others, especially at Christmas. One Dad shared today how their family downplays the gifts received from Santa and focuses more on gifts from family.
Here are a couple other suggestions for how gift-giving can be less about material purchases and more on the true understanding of why gifts are given at Christmas:
- Make it a family activity to make homemade items for emotionally needed folks. Make things like homemade bread, cookies, cards and crafts. Then, deliver them to a local nursing home (check in advance with them about whether or not food is accepted), shut-ins, elderly folks, people who aren’t able to get out very much. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to be very much. A few cookies and couple pieces of candy on a small Christmas paper plate are greatly appreciated!
- Help at a situation which serves underprivileged people. Examples would be a local giving tree, food pantry, etc. Or put together a shoe box of small items and mysteriously deliver and leave it at the door of a family that you know will be challenged for presents this year.
- Focus on relational giving. Give a friend or family member a couple of mugs and a pound of coffee with a note that says, “This coffee is for when we sit down and talk because I what I want to do this year is spend more time with you.” Or give a baseball glove and a ball with a note indicating your desire to play catch once a week with your child or grandchild.
- Skip the family gift and give the money to a family who needs heat this winter.
Ultimately, our goal in sharing presents is to help focus on the giving and not the getting. It’s returning to the original meaning of giving presents, which are a reminder of the love God gave to us through Jesus Christ.
What everyone really wants is to be loved and to have time with the people they love. As I’ve been at the deathbed of various people, no one has ever said to me, “I wish I’d had more material possessions.” What people say is that they hope their family members know how much they love them.
So, how do we deal with the challenge and lure of Santa in our culture? I’m confident we can’t eradicate Santa. I’m not sure it’s even a good idea to. What we can do is remember how the tradition of Santa began and that it is far more blessed to give than to receive. We give back the best gifts possible to Jesus when we give to others. May this be the spirit of our Christmas gift-giving this year.
Let us pray: Dear God: The finest gift you’ve ever given was your Son, Jesus. It’s the kind of gift we can’t ever fully appreciate. May our gift-giving this season be less about getting and more about giving. Help us to creatively ponder the gifts we give, who receives them and how we can instill the spirit of God’s love through the gifts we give. Amen.