As a children’s pastor, it’s interesting to me what subjects come up most often when talking with parents about their kids. I hear a lot of discussions about Disney and Harry Potter. I’m asked about social media, video games, and TV shows. And once Thanksgiving passes, I hear a lot, every year, about Santa Claus. Yes, the jolly man in the red suit who brings presents to kids at Christmas is a big deal to most parents.
They stand on both sides of the bearded guy and say, “He’s a harmless childhood memory!” Or, “You’re lying to children if you believe in Santa!”
I’ve heard, “He’s just something fun to help kids get into the spirit of giving!” And, “He keeps kids from believing in Jesus, the true reason for the season!”
When I look at Santa Claus, I think this:
“I really don’t care how you feel about him.”
That may be controversial. After all, I’m a children’s pastor. My whole job is to help kids connect with God, and more importantly, to His Son, Jesus—to help them develop a personal relationship with Him and grow in their faith.
At least, that’s what most people think it is. In fact, that’s only part of my job. The other part is to help parents connect with the spiritual development of their children. It’s not just kids I focus on, but parents, too. And parents, I really don’t care if your family is “pro-Santa” or “anti-Santa.” I don’t care if you’re “pro-Disney” or “anti-Harry Potter.”
What I care about is what you are focusing on with your kids.
Someone I really respect in kids and family ministry, Reggie Joiner, says this in his book Think Orange:
“I recall a number of times during my life as a leader in the church in which I would look around…and realize we had drifted. What are we doing fighting with these people? Why am I so anxious about things that don’t really worry God? I have a hard time imagining Him getting worked up about too many of those things. I sincerely doubt God is in heaven saying frantically, ‘Oh no! J. K. Rowling is writing another one of those books!’ or ‘Calling all angels: Disney is letting those people into their park. I need you to rally some Christians to boycott.’”
I would venture to say God feels the same way about Santa Claus.
Joiner concludes with this: “I can imagine God saying to us, ‘What are you doing? Why are you focused on that other stuff? Bring the light back over here where it belongs. Show them who I AM.”
Most parents don’t want to talk to me about how to help their kids develop hearts of service. They don’t ask me how to help their kids begin having a quiet time, or how to take what we talk about here on Sunday and apply the Bible to their every day lives. I don’t get asked how to help really help kids understand the concept of the Incarnation or what it truly means when we say that Jesus is “Emmanuel—God with us.”
No, most parents want my opinion and my position to be about something that it should never be about: what books to read or not to read, what movies to see or not to see, where to go or not go on vacation, what games to play or not play—whether we should or should not encourage kids to believe in Santa.
Because you see, if you really want to get down to it, none of what we do at Christmas really matters.
The Christmas tree.
Candlelight Christmas Eve services.
Mistletoe, holly, egg nog lattes, and red cups at Starbucks.
Chestnuts roasting, winter wonderlands, little drummer boys.
Saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”
You see, all of it, like Santa Claus, has the danger of distracting us from what we are actually supposed to be doing: shining the LIGHT into the lost world that so desperately needs the HOPE only Emmanuel, the God who is WITH us, can offer.
Anything else is just opinion and personal preference, like whether your family opens presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It’s not wrong to believe in Santa anymore than it’s right to “not” believe. What is wrong is when you look at the trappings of the season—whatever they may look like for your family—and think that it really matters.
Because it doesn’t.
What do we think about at Christmas?
“That sales clerk said ‘Happy Holidays’ to me.”
“Those parents lie to their kids about Santa.”
“That church isn’t having services on Christmas Day!”
“Those parents told their kids there isn’t a Santa Claus!”
What should we be thinking about at Christmas?
The fact that the tiny Baby, the Incarnate God, knew you before you were born. He walked with Moses. He gave David courage. He conversed with Abraham. He wrestled with Jacob. He spoke the words and the planets sprang into existence. He waved His hands and mountains and oceans and rivers came to be. And yet, He gave ALL of that up to clothe Himself in humanity–wrapping Himself in our fragile, frail form. To be with us.
He did it because His love for you was so great that He could do nothing less.
This is what matters to God.
I really don’t care how you feel about Santa. Or Harry Potter. Or even Disney, for that matter.
I care about whether or not your kids—and your family—are sharing what what matters most to a world that so desperately needs the HOPE and PEACE only He can offer. To the family member who drives you crazy. To the single mother who wonders where dinner is coming from. To the clerk at the store who has been instructed to say that thing that offends you.
They may not say it out loud, but all of them are crying out, like Charlie Brown, “Can’t somebody show me what Christmas is really all about?” Our job is to be Linus and say, “Yes, I can.”