Myth or Message? by James Rooks - December 17, 2012
This was the title theme of a church camp that I attended after my 9th grade year of high school with the Oxford Baptist Youth Group. The camp, called Centrifuge, was in Panama City Beach, FL. A big part of the week was invested into helping us as youth to discern what was a myth and what was the real message. In a society of mixed messages and motives, sometimes it’s hard to tell, right? Twenty-two years later, the song and theme from that week of camp have resurfaced into my thoughts as we approach the Christmas season.
I've now been married for 9 1/2 years and have 4 children ages 7, 5, 3, and 7 months. As parents of four young ones, my wife and I face the challenge of what to do with Santa Claus, Elf on the Shelf, and presents, while trying to instill into our kids the true meaning of Christmas. There's definitely a push to keep Christmas 'fun' for the kids with the make believe stuff, but I do find it a struggle to carry on a game. On one hand, the kids will one day find out that it was just a story. And on the other hand, how do I help them see that the story of God, Creator of the Universe, sending a Savior to come rescue us so that we can be with Him in Heaven forever is real? How do I know they're not just waiting for me to pull the rug out from under them on this one too? Some might find it offensive or uncool to mess with Santa, but as a Christian parent, it's something to think about. I know we want to keep it "fun," but what’s more fun than knowing that Christmas is a time when we get to celebrate the arrival of our Redeemer? If you have even a little grasp of what you've been saved from and the hope of what we are now headed for, remembering and celebrating Jesus' birth is exciting. I'm not trying to get on a campaign for parents to quit Santa; I’m just offering a challenge to get you into the thought process from that perspective.
So back to the myth and message thought … on the myth side: let's talk about Santa, Elf on the Shelf, and all the gifts. We've got Santa, who spends all year preparing gifts for all the good little boys and girls. He knows if you've been bad or good. He's got a running list and checks it twice (maybe more). Somehow on Christmas Eve, he is able to sneak into everyone's houses, deliver the gifts, and make it back to the North Pole by morning. Santa seems to be outside of time, he'd have to be in order to make that many stops in one night.
Secondly, we've got the Elf on the Shelf. This is new to me. I think it’s a couple of years old … I'm not sure. But after reading the book and seeing the Christmas movie about the Elf, I've found out that this Elf watches the kids and reports back to Santa every night while the kids are asleep. The kids can't touch the Elf. And for fun, parents get to pose the Elf in different funny scenes, take pictures (and post them on Facebook). Some of the photos I’ve seen have been pretty funny and creative.
Lastly, we have the gifts. Everybody loves getting good gifts. Every year we hope to out do ourselves from the year before. Toy catalogs and commercials are designed to leave your kids with three words: "I WANT THAT!" It’s fun to give the gifts, and it’s fun to get the gifts. Even as adults, we still look forward to being surprised somehow on Christmas morning. The problem with gifts, most of the time, is that they never measure up to our hopes and dreams. Within weeks or even days, our kids are looking forward to an upcoming birthday for the next fix.
I lay all this out there to begin to make a point. Where does all this come from? Santa, Elf on the Shelf, etc. … I know in large part it’s commercialism. I mean, who'd have thought you could sell a kids book and felt/plastic doll for $30? Yes. We gave the Elf on the Shelf a try. It was short lived though, which I may explain some other time. It’s my opinion that the desire for there to be an all seeing/knowing father figure (like Santa), an elf watching over you, and getting stuff to make us happy isn't just born out of consumerism. I think it’s something deeper. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (NIV)” Did you catch that?
Where does the idea of someone watching us, knowing us, and knowing our deeds come from? Do we know anybody like that? But wait, there's more. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar … before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain." Psalm 139:2, 4, & 6 (NIV)
We're not talking Santa here. We are talking about God.
Check out this passage about angels in Matthew 18:10: “see that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (NIV – emphasis mine). This is Jesus talking to the disciples concerning children who had gathered at Jesus' feet. Jesus says "their angels,” which is used in a possessive manner, indicating that the angels are assigned to individual children, and their job is to report back to the Father. Interesting, huh?
Lastly, in regards to gifts, there are many scripture references for this, but I want to focus on just a couple. We know that God gave the best gift in the history of all eternity when, in the dark of night while many were asleep, in a small town, He gave us Jesus. "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him" Mat 7:11 (NIV). We know that God gives many gifts, but none are better than the gift of His only Son. And unlike Santa, who gives gifts based on good and bad behavior, we know that Jesus is a free gift that none of us deserve. Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) tells us, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." The awesome part about the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus is it never goes away, and it is all-satisfying. Jesus says in John 4:14 (NIV), "but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor 9:15 (NIV)
My hope in writing this is not to convince parents to go wake their kids up and tell them that Santa is make belief or anything like that. I do believe it is our duty to help our kids grow in knowledge of the Lord, and part of that is being able to understand the difference between a myth and a Message. The good news for us as a family has been that in the midst of talks about Santa and elves, we have had some great talks with our boys. We haven't tried to shy away from it, but we’ve been able to go to scripture and explain things like Matthew 18 and how God has angels assigned to each one of them … and yes! It’s real! With this message, I don't have to worry about them out-growing the fun of belief and wonder. It is something we can grow in together. As a Christian dad, I'm still learning every day, probably more now than ever, that I need the Lord and His Word.