Dr. Mike Murphy
December 16. 2016
“If you move the ‘n’ in Santa to the end, you know you get Satan!”
When I heard this I knew I had heard enough! This was the last straw in a series of outrageous statements I had heard surrounding Christmas this year. “It is sacrilegious to place the Wise Men at the Nativity.” “Santa is an agent for Satan that is destroying the minds of our kids.” “I cannot believe anyone would put lights on their house, that is openly mocking the Star of Bethlehem.” These are just a few of the statements I have heard made at Christmas this year. Normally hearing this I would just shrug it off, but it is who has been saying these words that trouble me the most!
These statements did not come from the masses, the media, or even from those who would be happy to see us stop celebrating Christmas. These statements came from fellow Christians! Christians who see the traditions we have come to cherish during this season as scandalous, only designed to lead us away from Christ. So let us take a close and honest look at a couple of these traditions, and see for ourselves what they truly hold.
Let us start by looking at the Wise Men. Many will tell you that it is wrong to place the Wise Men at your Nativity scene, as the were not present at the birth. They are right, the Wise Men were not at the birth of Christ, nor did they visit Him on the night of His birth. The Gospel of Matthew makes it clear, they would have came to Bethlehem up to two years after the birth of Christ)Matthew 2:1-18). The words that Herod spoke, and the actions he took, make that very apparent. We also see this in the words and the question of the Wise Men themselves as the spoke to Herod and the religious leaders that were present as they arrived in Jerusalem. The Wise Men asked, “Where is the One who is born King of the Jews?”(Matthew 2:2). If we read this in the Greek, we soon discover that it is past tense, meaning the birth would have already taken place. And in the after events of the visit of the Wise Men, we read as Herod ordered the death of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two, leading most to conclude that Christ had been born months earlier.
So if the Wise Men was not present at the night of Christ’ birth, does that mean we need to remove them from the Nativity scene? Of course not! The purpose of a Nativity is to remind us of the early events of Christ life, to focus our hope and celebration on what those events brought and still brings. If we want an accurate account of the dates and details of that glorious night and the events of His birth, we have the Word of God for that. Having the Wise Men at the scene as we lay out our nativities in our homes, is not more taking away from the glory of that night than seeing someone place a smooth, sanded Cross in the ground for an Easter sunrise service. We place these scenes to honor and remember the event, not to try to recreate them.
For those who would say, we must keep them accurate or we are dishonoring the Lord, I have a few questions for them. Do they remove the stable if it is a part of the scene? A quick study of Jewish history and the shepherds who lived in the area of Bethlehem, and you will see the birth would have taken place in a basement-like structure under the house, as that is where the shepherds of Bethlehem brought their valued animals to protect them at night. They did not have anything like a stable as we show it today, a barn-like structure. Do they remove the wooden structure that holds Baby Jesus, what we call the manger? Christ would have been placed in a rock “trough-like” structure that would have been built out of the wall, not a manger. And do they remove the blanket that we see in most modern day Nativity scenes covering Christ and keeping Him warm? The Word of God makes it clear, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, which were narrow strips of cloth that bound a child so they would feel more like they did in their mother’s womb.
No one ever talks about removing these things from a Nativity scene, nor should they. If the truth be said, we are incapable of replicated the miraculous scene that many saw in Bethlehem that night, nor does God expect us to. The joy of a Nativity scene today is not found in the details, but in the purpose. The reason that causes us to pause, and to smile at what we see. The joy that comes to our mind as we remember the events of the early life of Christ. The Nativity is in our Christmas decorations to remind us and to point our focus where God wants it. To allow the images we see of that night to bring us into the Word of God, so we know why the Shepherds are in the scene, so we know why the Wise Men came, and so we know why Christ was laid in a manger. If what we sees leads us to spend time in the Word of God, then we will know each of the details of that night without question. In each of those miraculous details, we will see just how incredible each day of that Child’s life was! And we will have more reason to celebrate than we could ever imagine!
As we have looked at the Wise Men, let us also take a hard look at Santa Claus. The origins of Santa go back to a character of history many of us are very familiar with, Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was born during the third century in the town of Patara, modern day Turkey. At the time of his birth the area was still Greek. Nicholas was born of wealthy parents, who legend says raised him as a devout Christian. We are told that his parents died while he was young in an epidemic, but even at an early age Nicholas used his inheritance to help those around him. One of these early legends of Nicholas says that a man in the town became very poor, and was about to lose his three daughters into slavery. To avoid the fate of his daughters, the man wanted to find a way to marry his three daughters off. But being poor, he had no dowry to offer a husband of his daughters, a custom that was required for marriage in those days. Upon hearing of the man, Nicholas went into action. One night, Nicholas quietly came to the open window of the man’s house, and tossed in a bag of gold to serve as a dowry for the eldest daughter. Legend says the bag of gold landed in the daughter’s stocking that was hanging by the fireplace to dry(sound familiar?). Three nights we are told that Nicholas came to the man’s house, with a gold bag for each of his daughters. On the third visit the man began to wonder who was helping him, so when he heard the bag being thrown he ran out to see who it was. He caught Nicholas as he was leaving, but wanting to stay anonymous, Nicholas vowed the man to secrecy.
This is but one of the legends that made up Saint Nicholas, the man behind the origins of Santa Claus. Through the years, as the legend of Santa continued to evolve and grow, many of the characteristics we see of him were added. When we look closely at this characteristics, we may just be surprised what we see! We see many of the prophecies, qualities, and teachings of Christ in the story that is told to children about Santa. We always see Santa with pure white hair and beard. The Bible tells us that Christ appeared to John with white hair(Rev. 1:14), and Isaiah describes the Messiah with a beard(Isaiah 50:6). We always see Santa dressed in his famous red suit. We are told that when Christ returns His garments will be as red(Isaiah 63:1-2, Rev. 19:13). Any child can tell you that they never know what time of night Santa will come to their house. We are taught that the time of Christ’s’ return will be as a mystery(Luke 12:40, Mark 13:33). Every child knows that Santa makes toys, he is a toy carpenter. The Bible tells us that Christ was a carpenter(Mark 6:3). We all know that when Santa comes Christmas Eve night, he will be in and out of our house without us even knowing it. Christ tells us He will come like a thief in the night(Matt. 24:43-44). Even in the famous songs about the “jolly ole’ man” that we have added to his fame, we sing the words, “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!” In these words we see the Omnipresent, Omniscient and the all-seeing characteristics of God(Psalm 139:7-10; Ephesians 4:6; John 3:13), and the all-knowing characteristics of Him also(Hebrews 4:13; 1 John 3:20). Even when we look at the name of the man we are told is Santa, Kris Kringle, we see Christ. His name is German for “Christ Child”.
Many will hear this and say that Santa is nothing more than an imitator, a ploy by Satan to take our focus off of Christ. But if we take a close look at those who gave us the story of Santa Claus, we do not see a group of pagans in the forest being led by red-eyed demons, we see Christian like you and me. People who read the teachings of Christ, and knew the power of the parables He taught. Knowing that these earthly stories with heavenly meanings was a way for us to easily understand the message He brought to this world. So they did the same, seeing the story of Santa as a precious way to introduce the story, life and promises of Christ to children the world over.
Others will say that in telling their kids about Santa, they are doing nothing but lying to them, taking away from the trust they want to instill in them. That they do not want kids who will one day know the truth, and proclaim they have lied and misled them. I know, for one, that is the last thing I think of my parents when I look back on my days of dreaming about Santa. I do not see a mom and dad who tried to deceive me, but parents who loved me. Parents who were willing to make great sacrifices of their time, efforts, and money for me. Parents who sat up to two in the morning not so they could deceive me, but because they were willing to do anything for me. Is that not the very love our Father has for each of us? Is that not the very love we hope to teach a future generation?
If many of you are led to keep Santa from the lives of your kids, I trust you in doing so, and firmly trust that you are looking to Christ in making that decision. But in doing so, you need to also respect and understand the reasons why many faithful Christians choose to accept the tradition of Santa. I would even suggest that instead of us looking for ways to eliminate Santa, that we, the Church, reclaim Santa with all the morals and message we find in the story. The we make Santa exactly what he was intended to be, an amazing parable to show all the nature of Christ.
And this year, as we pull out our nativity scenes, hang the lights on our house, and gather the children around to tell them about Santa, may we remember the miracle that brings us together for this season each year. That we never forget the reason for the season, and make sure that with each blinking light we see, each Nativity scene we pass, and each cookie we put on a plate for Santa, we take every opportunity to teach about the glory that night in Bethlehem brought into this world That in each light, scene, and story, Christ is both heard and seen. That each day of this Christmas season, we do not become so logistic that we forget the purpose. A purpose that should find us each day of this season worshiping and celebrating what that Child brought to this world, and to each of us!
Praying the reason for the season is seen in all your decorations, and heard in each of your stories this Christmas!