A man in Bremerton, Washington has erected a 15 foot cross in his yard, with Santa in the place of Jesus. In an attempt to fight the commercialization of Christmas, Art Conrad has placed a picture of his creation on a home made Christmas card with the caption “Santa died for your Mastercard.” While some passersby are amused, others take offense at this irreverent use of the primary symbol of the Christian faith.
Conrad objected to the way that commercialism has perverted Santa Claus, which he apparently sees as the embodiment of the true meaning of Christmas.
I don’t think that Conrad created his display as the result of theological reflection, but reading about this event has caused me to reflect on the comparison between Santa Claus and Jesus. First, consider the similarities:
- Santa “knows when you are sleeping” and “sees you when you’re awake.” He also “knows when you’ve been bad or good.” Similarly, Jesus knows all about us, including secrets that we keep to ourselves.
- Santa generously distributes gifts, bringing much joy and happiness. In a similar way, Jesus also gives us gifts, especially the greatest gift of all, our salvation.
- Santa can apparently be in more than one place at the same time. I draw this conclusion from two facts: (1) There are countless reported sightings of Santa in thousands of different places in the weeks leading up to Christmas. (2) Santa reportedly is able to visit millions of homes in the space of a single night, and distribute gifts in each location. Surely this is a miraculous ability! Similarly, Jesus promises to be with all who believe in Him, everywhere throughout the world.
However, despite these similarities, the differences are even more significant:
- To begin with the obvious, Jesus is the Son of God, come into the world as a man through the virgin birth. Santa is a mythical being who supposedly lives at the North Pole.
- Santa rewards children with presents depending on whether they have been”bad or good.” But Jesus offers the gift of salvation to all who place their trust in Him, not to those who “deserve” it. Because none of us are perfect, and none of us deserve salvation.
- Santa, of course, cannot do anything to remedy our sinfulness. If a child has been bad, then he or she will receive a lump of coal, or no presents at all. But Jesus died to pay the price for our sin, and to give us the power to live for Him.
- Apparently the main form of communication with Santa is providing him with a list of desired gifts. But our relationship with Jesus centers on fellowship with Him rather then a focus on what He gives us.
- Santa’s presents tend to feed our self-indulgent selfishness and materialistic greed. Jesus’ gift of salvation empowers us to learn how to deny ourselves and live to serve Him and other people.
Perhaps you can think of additional similarities or differences. As we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s take out some time to reflect on “the reason for the season.”