The most important Christmas message that I want to get across to my kids is the gospel. In my opinion, kids are mostly likely to confuse the attributes of God with Santa. In fact, I think so many who have walked away from faith have mistaken the things of Santa for the things of God.
Even our depictions of Santa align with pictures of God. God is often depicted as an old white man with a beard who sits far away on a throne and judges whether you are good or bad and decides to reward or leave you out based on his determination. The biggest difference? A red Santa suit. For more on the depictions of God – here’s a really interesting blog post with lots of images of art by the greats.
Santa is taught as the one who is able to fulfill all your needs and wants, if you just present them to him in list or upon his lap. Children’s receipt of gifts is dependent on their faith. They are often told, “If you don’t believe in Santa, you won’t receive any gifts.” In fact, even Santa’s sleigh is said to be powered by belief. See the parallels? It’s not unreasonable for children to draw parallels and decide that God, like Santa, is really just an imaginary jerk.
Let’s consider the differences between Santa and God.
Santa does not want to be found. God seeks after us and reveals Himself to those who seek him.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
“We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him” (I John 4:16).
Santa can’t handle negative emotions. “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout…” God can handle all of our emotions, is compassionate, welcomes authenticity, and gives comfort.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (I Peter 5:7).
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Santa doesn’t know or value us. God knows us better and loves us more than anyone.
“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).
Santa gives you good gifts only if he deems you good enough. God gives good gifts because He is generous and loving.
“Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning” (James 1:17).
Santa is distant and uninterested in a personal relationship. God pursues a loving and eternal relationship with us.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Santa is unworthy of the attention he gets. God is worthy.
Tim Keller defines idolatry as ” anything that captures your heart and imagination more than God.” So much emphasis on Santa can draw a child’s heart and imagination away from the arrival of Jesus, God with us.
“All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3-4).
Santa appeals to greediness. God appeals to our generosity and gratitude.
“Freely you received, so freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Santa offers no hope if we are naughty. God empowers us to overcome evil and do good.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
“He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).
Santa is an unforgiving judge. God is full of mercy.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
Santa keeps track of all your behaviors as evidence for his final judgment. God’s final judgment is based on whether you come into proper relationship with Him. He forgives your sins and gives grace.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
“For by Grace you have been saved through faith. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
For the believing family, it’s important that children understand just how much bigger, better, and more worthy God is of our love and attention. With so much talk and emphasis on Santa in our culture, it’s up to us to make sure that our kids “see” the invisible God – who for all we know does not have a beard or white hair.
Here’s what we do know. He is full of mercy and grace. He is generous, loving, and worthy. He desires to be close to us and wants us to find Him. He does not condemn us for our sins, but through Christ, empowers us to do better next time. He delights in giving us good gifts, and gave us the greatest gift of all, which we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus, God with us.