Are you naughty or nice this Christmas?
The old song, “he’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, gonna find out who’s been naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” The whole schtick is a tool for parents to hold it over their children during the high stress/high energy time of the holidays, as a way of keeping kids in line. You better be good or Santa will bring you coal for Christmas this year. If you’re good you’ll get good stuff for Christmas. I still remember getting coal in my stocking one year for Christmas.
The fairly new tradition that you might not know about if you don’t have kids right now is the elf on the shelf that came out in 2005. The story describes how Santa’s “scout elves” hide in people’s homes to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the scout elf flies back from the North Pole and hides in a new spot each morning around the house. (Wikipedia) It’s the same story, a way to get the kids to behave during the high stress/high energy time of the holidays.
Problem is, of course, this doesn’t work in the long run. It doesn’t teach children what it looks like to live a good life apart from a basic form of reward and punishment. I’ve also noticed it sometimes teaches kids to be sneaky, well if Santa doesn’t find out… It can be all good stuff and a fun holiday diversion but it does give some echoes to how we understand God.
Here’s the question, is God really Santa and are the angels really like the Elf on the Shelf? Is God watching over us all of the time, watching what we are doing and how we are living and are God’s angels hiding on the shelf every night ready to report back to heaven if we’ve been naughty or nice? Often we approach God this way, especially when bad things do happen we wonder if God really knows about that thing we did and is punishing us.
Okay, well let’s be honest about this one. God already knows everything I’ve done, all of the wrong I’ve committed, all of the good I’ve tried to do, all of the hurtful things I’ve done when I thought no one was looking; God already knows everything I’ve done. Not only does God know everything I’ve done but God already knows all that I will do like it has already happened. Maybe for God it’s like looking at a snow globe from the outside, all that I am is already plain to be seen but on the inside life is still moving along, the snow is still falling and I’m still looking for hot coffee to drink. However it is, there are no mysteries when God sees us, he doesn’t need angels or elves to hide on the shelf, God already knows.
Because God already knows all of our naughty and even all of our nice, God did not wait to see if we should get coal in our stocking or a present under the tree, no even in spite of all of our naughty or nice God did not give us coal but gave to us the best Christmas present of all, wrapped in swaddling cloths, laid under the tree for all of the world to receive. There wasn’t ever a question about what we would get for Christmas from God and how we behave never changed what God put under the tree for us. We were given Jesus for Christmas and our Christmas present would one day be laid upon another tree to die, without waiting to see if you would be naughty or nice because God already knew what He was giving us for Christmas no matter how we behaved. He was giving us Jesus and in Jesus all of His love for us who are naughty and nice and often more naughty than nice.
Knowing this the question is, does God care about how we live and if we are naughty or nice? Let’s talk about San Bernardino, Paris and Syria for a moment. In Islam as well is a basic belief about God, that God will reward those who are good and will punish who are not. But on top of this, the Islamic understanding of God, is a capricious god that cannot be trusted, that may change it’s mind about you especially when you are tested for judgment, there is no certainty and because there is no certainty there is truly no lasting hope. The only place that offers certainty is the death of an Islamic martyr, dying in the cause to defend Islamic rule and with that death receive carnal pleasures in the afterlife. Those that do this try to create their own certainty from an uncertain god and justify their actions seeing this as a holy war.
Yes God cares how we live. But God through Jesus Christ has not left it up to us to create our own certainty and to give us lasting hope. No God already gave us the certainty of life with him both now and eternally through faith, not martyrdom or holy war, but faith in His son, doing this already knowing what our lives would be like. But in Jesus he also gave to us the way to live the life He has called us too by living that way himself for all the world to see. It’s never about us wondering if this action or that action is naughty or nice, but with certainty seeing how we are to live in the life and death of Jesus who showed us what it means to love God and love our neighbor. Who in faith gives to us the power to live that life.
There is no place to earn a carnal paradise by killing innocents at a holiday party when we see Jesus being beaten and crucified by his enemies and with tears praying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It’s not about us deciding what or who is naughty or nice but in faith aligning our hearts, minds and daily lives with what God has already done and lived out for us in Jesus.
Knowing that the certainty of our hope in faith in Jesus came to us long before we ever chose to be naughty or nice with God already knowing exactly how we would be, we have certainty of our hope in the cradle and cross of Jesus that has shown us what the life we are called to live looks like. Amen.