Monday, December 18, 2023

Jesus Claus

Every year, I post a reminder on my social media that really causes quite a bit of a firestorm. The reminder is this: 

Santa doesn't belong in church. 

Every year, I see churches hosting Santa parties, having one of their members (usually) dress up for the children. Putting him in the lobby to greet everyone as they come in. Interestingly, I have noticed that there are many churches who will post more photos of Santa in their building than they will post photos of their nativity scene, their children's Christmas program, their candlelight service. 

So every year, I post that Santa doesn't belong in church. And every year, I get razzed for being "anti-Santa." 

So let's be clear: 

I am not anti-Santa. I'm not. And I'm not suggesting that we have to be. But I am very much anti-Santa-in-church

I understand the challenges. When I was growing up, and I was not a Christian, I had one classmate who went to the type of church that did not allow him to celebrate holidays. He didn't participate in any of the stuff our classroom was doing for whatever season it was - Halloween, Christmas, whatever. I remember we had a great many conversations about that. 

And that is one of the reasons families give for wanting Santa to be part of their Christmas - even their Christian Christmas - experience: they don't want their kids to be weirdos. They don't want their kids to miss out on points of connection with the broader culture. They don't want their kids to have to sit out while everyone else is participating in something that is, admittedly, very magical for the world. 

Ah, Christmas. 

Not only do we not want that for our kids, but we don't want that for our churches. We don't want to be that stuffy, anti-world church that separates itself from all things human and gets known for having this kind of air of arrogance, like maybe we're better than everyone else because we don't do Christmas like them (or whatever battle it is that we're supposed to pick). 

I say Santa doesn't belong in church, and I get harped on for it. But I'm not anti-Santa. 

I'm anti-Santa-stealing-the-joy-of-Christmas

And that's the thing. Christmas is one of those things that exists because of the church. Without Christ, there is no Christmas at all. Unless Jesus came, there's no birth to celebrate. Without Immanuel, God with us, there is nothing drawing us together this time of year in particular. Nothing special, anyway. Christmas is a thing only because Jesus is a thing. 

How stunning it is, then, that we seem so willing to let the world creep in and take our thing from us. Our thing. How incredible that we let Santa just waltz into our buildings and steal the show. How weird that we, as bearers of Christ's name, would let there be anything but Christ at our Christmas. 

How strange that we would think we need anything else. 

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