Listen, Jesus is the center of our church gatherings at Christmas. Seriously, why is it such a big deal if we have a guy in the lobby dressed like Santa Claus? He's not stealing our joy or whatever; he's just adding to it. He's bringing in that thing that connects to the world and helps us reach more members of our community. It's not like we're making an altar call out of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town."
Just get over yourself already, Aidan.
Sorry, I can't.
Because when you bring Santa into your church, let me ask you something: what are the members of your church talking about most.
The answer isn't "Jesus."
When they're getting their kids ready to come to church that morning, they're telling them that Santa is going to be there. They're using Santa to get them all excited to come to church. When they're inviting their non-Christian friends to join them, they are inviting them to come and see Santa. When they are taking pictures of your church and posting them on social media, they are posting pictures of Santa in the lobby hanging out with all of the kids.
They aren't posting pictures of the choir or the praise band. They aren't posting pictures of the pastor preaching (unless, weirdly, he's wearing some kind of cultural Christmas garb - an ugly sweater or a Santa hat or something). They aren't posting pictures of the beautiful stage that your elders' wives spent hours putting together. They aren't posting pictures of the manger.
At this time of year, the pictures folks are posting of their churches and the invitations they are extending are almost completely indistinguishable from the local mall. "Come meet Santa!"
Not only does Santa take the focus away from what we're really doing in church, even when we keep Jesus at the center of our service, it feels like a really heavy bait and switch to the world. Oh, they know it's coming, but they still don't love the way we do it.
Hey, we've got Santa on Sunday. And because the world wants to charge you for this, we're doing it for free. Just to get you in our doors. Then, once you're here, we'll preach Jesus at you.
But it's too late.
Because you've already set yourself up as a "Jesus and" church. Jesus and whatever gets you in the door. Jesus and the good feelings you're looking for. Jesus and a free photo op.
Jesus and Santa.
Santa is simply too powerful a cultural Christmas force to put him anywhere near our Christ. Sadly, he wins out every time, even in our churches. Our kids go home and talk about having seen Santa at church. They tell their friends about Santa at church. They are more ready to talk about Santa at Christmas than the manger, and we reinforce this every time we confirm from them - through his presence in our churches - that Santa is some kind of integral part of Christmas, some really big part of Christmas that even the church can't ignore. They learn that Jesus and Santa go hand-in-hand.
I'll say it again - Santa is Christmas decor. He wasn't in the fields. He wasn't in the manger. He didn't follow a star that night. He didn't bring gifts to baby Jesus. He wasn't there. We've brought him into our Christmas because we have accepted the myth that for some reason, we have to.
And every time we do, he pushes Jesus a little bit further to the edges, just by being in our lobby. No matter what we're doing in our sanctuary. We have gone back and created, in the Christmas season, a courtyard and a holy place, a separation in the church, and we've put Jesus in one space and Santa in the other and we claim it's okay, that they really have nothing to do with one another. That they actually come together in some really beautiful way.
Friends, Jesus would storm through our lobby with a whip and drive that red-suited guy right out of there, flipping over tables as He did it.
Santa does not belong in church.