Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon writes with brilliant precision on the good news of why Jesus Christ is nothing like Santa Claus:
The words of that dreadful Christmas song sum up perfectly the only kind of messianic behavior the human race, in it’s self-destructive folly, is prepared to accept: ‘He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice; he’s going to find out whose naughty and nice’ – and so on into the dark night of all the tests this naughty world can never pass. For my money, what Jesus senses clearly and for the first time in the coin in the fishes mouth is that He is not, thank God, Santa Clause. He will come to the world’s sins with no list to check, no test to grade, no debts to collect, no scores to settle. He will wipe away the handwriting that was against us and nail it to His cross. (Col. 2:14) He will save, not some minuscule coterie of good little boys and girls with religious money in their piggy banks, but all the stone-broke, deadbeat, overextended children of this world whom He, as the son of man — the Holy Child of God, the ultimate Big Kid, if you please – will set free in the liberation of His death.
And when He senses that… well, it is simply to laugh. He racks a “gone fishing” sign over the sweatshop of religion, and for all the debts of all sinners who ever lived, He provides exact change for free. How nice it would be if the church could only remember to keep itself in on the joke. 1
The only kind of savior we can imagine for ourselves in our twisted self-deception is a Santa Claus savior, a savior who makes a list of all the good and bad and who rewards and punishes them accordingly. But thank God for the incarnation: God’s gracious message that He’s given up the list keeping, religion game for good. God’s grace is not conditional on your behavior, it’s freely given without restriction. God is not a lawman, hell-bent on keeping you in line before He extends grace. For God there is no before grace, there is only after grace!
As we celebrate the advent season it’s important to remember this simple point. God’s grace is nothing like the legalism and list keeping of Santa Claus. God’s grace is free and unconditional, without strings and without a prerequisite “goodness” we keep on our own. God’s grace is free grace, it is God’s gift of Himself to us in the birth of Jesus Christ. When God sought to save the world He gave us the greatest benefit of all: Himself. God so loved the world that He gave. That’s the joy of Christmas, that God gave Himself to mankind, that He came for us and for our salvation.
He’s not making a list, He’s not checking it twice, His free grace doesn’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice!
Thank God Jesus isn’t Santa Claus!
During Advent I’ll be sharing many of my favorite books and quotes on the incarnation. Read my Advent book recommendations here, and read more inspiring Christmas quotes and reflections here.
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- Kingdom, Grace, Judgement, p 178 ↩