The difference between Jesus and Santa Claus
“What’s the difference between Jesus and Santa Claus?” I asked the children who had come up to the front of the church for the “children’s sermon” one Advent Sunday when I was a local church minister. A youngster, hanging on to his blanket, piped up, “Jesus will forgive you, but Santa Claus never will.”
When Santa first arrived to Merrifield Garden Center in Falls Church, Virginia last year, he had all the children gather around him next to a Nativity scene and explained Christmas and the birth of Jesus.
That’s it. That’s the difference. Santa Claus is not in the forgiveness business. In fact, he can be a scary guy. He’s not just a jolly old elf in the red suit. With Santa it’s all, “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town.” And worse, Santa spies on you. “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” You’d better be good or good ole Santa won’t give you any toys.
That was my little son who spoke up in church, and he always disliked that Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” In fact, he was never actually all that fond of Santa, either. We have a picture of him sitting on Santa’s lap just howling, his older brother vainly trying to comfort him. It’s the last Santa photo we had taken with him.
Santa is judgmental. Santa gives bribes for being good, and if you’re not good, Santa doesn’t forgive. He just puts coal in your stocking and moves on.
Jesus will forgive you. That’s the whole Gospel right there. Unconditional love is the message of Christmas and it makes all the difference. “Do not be afraid,” the angel says to the terrified shepherds watching over flocks. “Peace on earth” has come among us. “Good will to all.” (Luke 2: 9,14)
Peace on earth is the message we need to hear from Christmas. Not some pseudo fear-mongering that “they” are conducting a “war on Christmas.”
The “war on Christmas” idea is ‘Santa theology’ not Christian theology. Those talking heads on television and the radio bleating about a “war on Christmas” have missed the whole point of “God with us.”
The Christmas season is a time of year for “good will” and tolerance and a little forgiveness all around. Try it. Jesus will like it. Santa? Not so much.
FORMER PROFESSOR, CHICAGO THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY