“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
My wife and I attended the annual Christmas program downtown last Saturday afternoon. As usual, it was extremely well done. It is amazing how the show is reformatted around a new theme each year, to creatively frame the well-produced variety show.
This year’s production, “Murphy’s Cartoon Christmas”, was staged to look like a giant TV screen, with the quality acts performed inside the television outline. The lighting was great, the sound was first-rate, and the colorful costuming was truly magnificent.
The clogging troop, with the senior citizen who spryly danced in denial of his age, was my personal favorite. I also enjoyed the Murphy Kids, especially the little drama queen in the middle of the first row, who is destined to be a show-stopper for sure.
My hat’s off to everyone who worked so hard to put on such a fine event. There was Santa and Mrs. Claus in the lobby, the Grinch in the show, a Charlie Brown song, and everything else about Christmas that one could ask for, with one notable exception — baby Jesus did not make an appearance.
This absence of Jesus gave me pause to wonder why. Although the holiday has been substantially secularized, Christmas does remain a Christian holy day. The core of the celebration is that Jesus came from heaven to earth (known as the incarnation), was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and birthed by Mary, His mother.
I like how the Apostle John describes this: “the Word took flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14), i.e. God became human and lived with us for a time.
The commonly accepted Biblical teaching is that God loves us so much, that He sent Jesus to rescue mankind from the throes of sin and death. He came as a baby, grew up to be a man, lived a sinless life, and sacrificed it on our behalf to offer forgiveness. God becoming human, as a baby born in Bethlehem, is a fundamental foundation of the Christian faith. And followers of Christ acknowledge this fact in celebrating Christmas.
I’m not aware of any Christian church in Clinton County that does not celebrate the Christ of Christmas.
So, why is it easier to promote Santa Claus bringing gifts at Christmas than Jesus being the Gift of Christmas? I have a theory and it goes like this: We human beings struggle big time with receiving things that we haven’t earned. Seriously. We like getting gifts, but harbor guilt if we feel we don’t deserve them (“Oh, you shouldn’t have!”).
Hence, the fable of Santa Claus makes sense, versus the truth of Jesus.
Let me explain.
Would you agree that from the vantage of the North Pole, gifts bestowed are based on good behavior? A popular holiday song referring to Santa, puts it this way: “He’s making a list, and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”
Our getting Santa’s gifts, and the quantity and quality of them, are based solely on how good we’ve been in the last year. If we’ve been nice enough to earn a reward, it’s going to be a good Christmas, but if we’ve been naughty, your gift may just be a lump of coal or nothing at all.
The proverbial entitlement mindset is at the root of the Santa Claus tradition. We seem to like it best when we deserve the reward; when we’ve earned the right to our gifts.
It’s not that way with Jesus.
The gift of Jesus is not only free, but undeserved. Our being forgiven cannot be earned, is not based on behavior, but is bestowed by the grace of God solely. Some church traditions refer to the gift of grace as “God’s unmerited favor.”
I like that. God chooses to love us, even when we are unlovable ourselves and unloving to others. Nobody can receive the gift of Jesus based on goodness. Though we may be a good person, we are not good enough to deserve forgiveness. It is a free gift; unearned, unmerited, undeserved.
The gift of Jesus is not determined by the naughty-nice quotient you have, but is available to everyone.
I saw a simple chalk drawing on one of the blackboards at the Wilmington House of Prayer. It is a picture of a green Christmas tree, with a yellow star glowing atop, and with a few red and blue ornaments dotting the tree. Clearly visible as a backdrop to the tree is a brown cross, with smudges of red where the hands and feet of Jesus would have been when He was crucified.
The caption simply says: “Jesus the Reason.” I couldn’t say it better myself.
Thank you Murphy Theatre for the great show. Thank you Jesus for the great gift. Merry CHRISTmas to all, and to all a good night!
Dave Hinman is Pastoral Elder at Dove Church Wilmington. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.