Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Do we love Santa more than Jesus?

   We were walking through a department store when someone asked my then 5-year old daughter Callie, "So, what is Santa bringing you for Christmas?"  She looked at me confused, and shrugged her shoulders.  I just smiled and went on.  As soon as they were out of sight, Callie looked at me and lowered her eyebrows.  "Mom..  I can't believe that they believe in Santa."  In a way of shock and displeasure. I was kind of taken back by her comment.  I know that I had made her to believe that it was almost an atrocity to believe in him, but to hear it come from the mouth of a 5-year old..  it didn't sound like I was being gracious, or teaching her anything other than bitterness...  yet, I believed, as she had put it, that it was just wrong for anyone to believe in Santa, or to have their kids do so.
   I followed suit with that for years.  Not only making her believe that Santa was a myth, but that it was wrong for others to believe in him.  To me, it was idolatry.  My husband and I would roll our eyes at all the pics with people's kids on Santa's lap.  We couldn't believe they were actually allowing them to believe in Santa!  On the very day we were supposed to be focusing entirely on the birth of Jesus!  How dare they....  they were doing their kids an injustice!  

  Christmas eve would come, then Christmas morning...  and my child was excited about the gifts under the tree.  I couldn't believe that she was more excited about gifts more than Christ's birth!  Should I just stop giving gifts altogether?  First Santa...  then a kid being excited about gifts...  I would feel guilty all day..  for all the shopping, for spending too much, for going all out..  I would feel bad that we didn't spend Christmas day at a church, learning about what the meaning of Christmas is truly about.  I started to dislike Christmas.  I faced many a holiday with this same dilemma.  I was so excited about the gifts..  about seeing my children happy.  Along with that excitement came immense guilt, because although my heart desired to dedicate this day to my Lord, my mind could not wrap itself around exactly how to do that.  I felt guilty for loving Christmas, I felt guilty for loving gifts...  it wasn't a joyous holiday for me. 

  I wasn't certain how to do this..  how to be able to enjoy Christmas without the guilt that came along with it.  Whether or not I was doing the right thing by making my kids feel harshly toward Santa and those who believe in him.  I wouldn't even buy wrapping paper or decorations with Santa on them, because he was supposedly taking the place of my God in his holiday.  

  Then, I heard the story of Laurence Krieg.  Kreig is now an adult, and his most prized possession is a letter that he received when he was 9 from CS Lewis.  Can you imagine?  9-year-old Krieg loved Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.  However, he was troubled.  Kreig told his mother that he was heavy burdened, because he believed that he loved Aslan more than he loved Jesus.  He wondered if doing so made him an idol worshipper.  Not knowing what to say, she wrote a letter to Lewis, in hopes that he would comfort her son.  His response was beautiful....

  Tell Laurence from me, with my love:
   Even if he was loving Aslan more than Jesus (I’ll explain in a moment why he can’t really be doing this) he would not be an idol-worshipper. If he was an idol worshipper he’d be doing it on purpose, whereas he’s now doing it because he can’t help doing it, and trying hard not to do it. But God knows quite well how hard we find it to love Him more than anyone or anything else, and He won’t be angry with us as long as we are trying. And He will help us.
But Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. 

   Sometimes I believe we give ourselves too much credit.  I believe we confuse being a Christian with being religious.  I believe we get so caught up in trying to look the part that we forget to act it.  I know that I'm very guilty of that.  I get so busy trying to look like a Christian, I forget that God is not fooled by whats on the outside, but whats on the inside...  and sometimes we are so busy working on the outside that we just allow the inside to grow dull.  
   Its so difficult for us to wrap our minds around who God is.  We are flesh.  In the Bible, even those who saw him work miracles had trouble understanding.  The disciples who walked with Christ daily still did wrong, still messed up, and still had trouble loving him all the time.  Its not because we don't love him, or because we can't love him, but because we are clothed in flesh, and are incapable of being everything that our soul yearns to be- in this side of eternity.  

Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

  God doesn't expect us to be perfect.  He doesn't expect us to push life away, to push people away..  he simply asks that we have faith, that we follow him as best as we can, and that we embody him to others.  That we show- through acts, that God lives inside of us.  We show the holy spirit, to the best of our capabilities, everyday.  He knows we will fall short, and knows we will fail..  yet he forgives us and love us anyway.

  The rest of the letter continued...

  Now if Laurence is bothered because he finds the lion-body seems nicer to him than the man-body, I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) and knows that at a certain age the idea of talking and friendly animals is very attractive. So I don’t think He minds if Laurence likes the Lion-body. And anyway, Laurence will find as he grows older, that feeling (liking the lion-body better) will die away of itself, without his taking any trouble about it. So he needn’t bother.If I were Laurence I’d just say in my prayers something like this: “Dear God, if the things I’ve been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don’t like and are bad for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love You more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imaginations, by doing what You want and growing more like You.

   I have to say, I entirely agree with Mr. Lewis. I also believe this is very distinctive in the idea of Santa.  Little children have wild imaginations, and one day they will grow and the magic of Santa will fade and be gone..  just like the magic of believing Olaf and Mickey Mouse are real.  One day the idea of someone magical bringing them gifts will be a silly notion to them.  However..  the idea of generosity that Santa brings to them, could very well live with them throughout the ages.  The idea that someone cares enough about him to bring him gifts could make him desire to do the same to others.  The acts of gratitude that he shows for the gifts could very well teach him gratitude. 
  Later on, Krieg said that he was comforted by this letter, and as an adult with children of his own, still embraced the characteristic of Aslan as he envisioned God.  The strengths that Lewis showed through the character of Alsan...  strength, love, protection..  those were the very things that he related to his view of God.  

   The way we do Santa in the Duncan house is a little different.  We don't tell the kids that he is bringing them gifts on Christmas morning, because the gifts on Christmas morning are from each other.  We buy a couple of small things from me and Dad, but the 'big' gifts that they get aren't something that they've asked for, they are something carefully chosen by another sibling, which works out great, because they know one another so well.  They draw names between the four of them on Thanksgiving and spend a month choosing the perfect gift for their sibling, and we spend a day shopping.  They inevitably get something small for their other siblings as well, wrap them themselves, and are more excited about what they got for the other person than they are about what they are getting.  

  However, when we are around Santa, I allow the magic to take over.  I allow them to talk to him, to tell him what they would like for Christmas.  To be given gifts and laugh with him, to be excited about him.  Whatever spin some people may like to put on Santa is their own prerogative.  I don't believe there's anything evil about Santa.  To my children, he's as real as Mickey Mouse and Woody were at Disney world, and that, to them, is exciting!  I love this picture...  the little boy in red and green is my Huddy, just a 'little' bit excited about Santa.  Nowadays, even Callie enjoys adding Santa to our Christmas celebrations..  and not feeling bad about doing so.  

  I no longer feel guilty about Christmas, because I think its okay for me to be excited about getting something special for my children.  They truly are amazing children, in every way, and they deserve gifts.  I believe God has blessed us, and I'm so thankful for it.  I'm thankful that I get to spend that time each year with my family, some family that I only see at Christmas even.  I'm thankful for all the laughter, all the hugs, all the smiles and all the gratitude.  I'm thankful that people put everything aside to be together, to love one another, and to put someone else's desires above their own.  

   On Christmas, we celebrate God coming to earth, embodied in mortal flesh, to give the world the greatest gift.  Salvation.  Forgiveness.  If that Christmas had not happened, we would not be able to enjoy Christmas, we would not be able to live and make mistakes..  what mercy!  Is it really a time to feel guilty?  God erased guilt.  Guilt does not come from God.    The best advice that my husband ever gave me, was to be careful not to confuse guilt with conviction, because they are two different things entirely.   I'm working on that each day...  praying that God will show me the difference between what I'm feeling guilty about for no reason, and what he convicts my heart of in order to grow and change me to be the best that I can possibly be.  I'm working on it each day, and I make a lot of mistakes...  but I'm willing to grow, to change..  to bend and learn from my mistakes.  I'm so grateful for the life that God has given me, and truly thankful that he's changing my heart.  It's a lot more freeing to allow myself to let go of guilt once and for all.   
   So for those of you who celebrate Santa..  don't feel guilty.  You aren't teaching your children that Jesus isn't important..  you are just enjoying life with your kids, in that small amount of time that they still have those wild imaginations full of magic.  Teach them about God, and about his gift of life that he gave at Christmas..  and don't feel guilty when they don't understand.  Don't beat yourself up trying to make them understand...  remember that they are not only flesh as well as you are, they are children.  One day they will understand it, and they will remember all that you taught them.  They will see God and his spirit and will remember the way you showed God to them through the way that you lived each day.  Until then, pray for them, enjoy them and remember..  those imaginations are amazing, and God loves them.  After all, he created them, and loves them even more than you ever could.