Don't get me wrong. I still play the game with my children. I do it because they have fun with it, but more and more I am ready to chunk the whole Santa Claus get up as well as that Elf on the Shelf thing. Not because it isn't fun playing with such things but because of the implicit message being sent to kids.
I know I risk being labeled a fuddy-duddy or theological purist because of this post, but please think about what we are conveying to kids through these things, and then think about what Jesus proclaims to us--and the real meaning of Christmas.
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He's making a list.
He's checking it twice.
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good, so be good, for goodness sake!
So goes the Christmas song. And what is this song teaching?
Be good or else you won't be getting any presents. It's reinforced by those of us who are well intentioned parents who say, "If you aren't good, Santa's going to be bringing you a lump of coal."
That Elf on the Shelf reinforces this thought process.
Sure, it's fun to put that little guy all over the house in different and varying poses. I personally enjoy my kids getting out of bed and searching around the house until they find the guy doing whatever he is doing on a particular morning. It's all in good fun--for the most part.
But again, the implicit message of the elf, "He's watching you all day, and at night, he reports to Santa about the things you've been doing today." If you aren't being good, the elf will tell Santa, and you won't get any good gifts.
The modern Santa and Elf on the Shelf are perfect examples of works/righteousness, theology of glory thinking. If I am good... If I am doing the right things... If I follow the law just perfectly.... then I will get goodies in the end. Whether we like it or not, this is the message we are sending to our kids which is a far cry from the reality of Christmas.
Christmas is about grace--unmerited, undeserved grace. Period.
Christmas is about God's plan of reconciling the world unto Himself by taking on flesh and dwelling among us.
Christmas is about the babe in the manger who would one day hang on the cross taking our sin, our shame, our suffering, our frailty, our death with Him and putting such things to death that we might live.
Christmas is about remembering the One who does such a thing all the while praying for His enemies, blessing those who persecuted Him, and saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
Christmas is about the One who died for us even though we weren't being good and gave us the gift of eternal life despite our refusal to live our lives for God and for our neighbor.
You cannot draw a deeper contrast between the incarnation of Santa Claus in the U.S. along with his partner Mr. Elf on the Shelf and the Lord of lords and King of kings who became Emanuel--God with us.
I will play this little game for a few more years because my kids enjoy it, but I'll be doing just a little extra work to let them know what grace really is as well. For in the long run it makes quite a difference as illustrated by the following two sentences differentiated by one simple mark:
So be good, for goodness sake.
So be good for goodness' sake.
One of these is works/righteousness.
One of these is responding to grace.
One is Christian. One is not.
Want to keep Christ in Christmas?
Teach and live grace.