I think I’ve reached my destination. For it was on December 6 that I determined Christmas would be different this year. I decided I would leave over stuffed days, fits of wrath and perfectionism behind, setting out on a course for Jesus. And so, as I sang along with Bruce Springsteen this morning (at the top of my lungs), I realized I’m already there. I’ve made it to the heart of Christmas! And of all things, select lyrics from Santa Claus is Coming to Town shed light on my path…
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list
And 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 if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out!
You know, the beat is great and it puts a smile on my face. And yet, today, I think how threatening the words are. You better walk the straight and narrow, or else! It’s kind of like the elf on the shelf. Santa’s minions are placed in homes around the world so that they can spy on children. And guess what, small child… If you’re not good and perfect in all your ways, well then, no reward for you! No grace for dispensation. This is my elf on the shelf, by the way…
I’m certainly not down on Santa or the Elf on the Shelf. It’s just that in my search for the true reason for the season, it’s glaringly obvious that this song and these little elves point directly to the Law of the Old Testament. Christmas has become a works based reward system. And before Jesus came along, I think life may have felt exactly that way. You better be good! You better walk the straight and narrow! You better be perfect! And the only way people could walk blamelessly before God was by obeying each and every one of His commandments, and following the Law. Explicitly. And if they screwed up, there were offerings and sacrifices to be made. Burnt offerings and grain offerings and sin offerings and fellowship offerings. There was even a guilt offering. This was the way of life before Christmas came, for it was Christ who ushered in the age of grace. Before the Star of Jacob appeared, the Law guided God’s chosen ones.
And people could accomplish this feat, for the father of John the Baptist proves it. This old man was righteous in God’s sight because he lived without blame according to all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But here’s the thing… because he walked perfectly, did he still feel the need for a Savior? Did he still look forward to the coming Messiah? Because Zechariah was doing A-Okay. In fact, when the angel of the Lord appeared to him, Zechariah was doing exactly what he should be doing. He was serving as priest, burning incense in the sanctuary of the Lord… in a perfect manner, I’m sure. But then, out of nowhere stood Gabriel! And this man of God, who walked perfectly, felt fear.
Gabriel brought good tidings, for old Zechariah and his barren wife would have a son. But amazingly, Zechariah didn’t believe it. In essence, he didn’t receive the good news… at first. And so Gabriel replied, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words…” Wow. What stern measures were taken here. But what a lesson for today. Because it’s the perfect picture of how our hearing can be dulled over time. And through the monotony of rote tradition, our minds can thicken and our hearts can harden. And can it be possible? Dare I even say this… familiarity breeds contempt. For isn’t it true that over time we become complacent and perhaps, just a bit too casual with God. Speaking for myself, I have to say yes.
Oh, I completely identify with Zechariah. Because at times, I am just like him. See, early on I bound myself to God’s law. Since I had more faith in God’s rules than I did in salvation through Jesus only, I was groomed for working. My notes evidence my shaky foundation… “Don’t rely on salvation alone. Works!” And so, bypassing relationship, I moved on to busyness. I believed I should walk blamelessly, and so I strived to do so through acts of service. I tried my best to be good, for I really wanted to be perfect. I thought that’s what He expected. And so in my mind, the more I strived, the better I was. I got so good at going to church, and taking Bible studies, and praying religiously that it was almost as if I no longer needed a Savior. Because on my own, I was doing A-Okay. Like Zechariah. But you know what? You can only carry on in that manner for so long. Because if you keep climbing higher and higher up your own pedestal, eventually you fall off. That’s what I did. For pride comes before the fall.
“But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13.
For me, the ultimate Christmas miracle is Jesus did not come because we were so good. On the contrary, He came because of our sinful nature. Because God knew no matter how many good works we accomplished, we would never, ever achieve perfection. Thus, Jesus… the reason for the season and God’s perfect gift.
And so, do I want Santa with his long lists, or do I want Jesus only? I can choose the Law with its infinite rules, or I can choose salvation only. My choice is easy, for I’ve tried being good. It doesn’t work. And oh, how I’ve pouted and cried. So, obviously I’m removed to Santa’s naughty list. Therefore, I choose Jesus. I choose a Savior. Because I cannot save myself.
This Christmas, I find rest. I don’t have to work one minute more. My strivings can now cease, for God has already given the perfect Christmas gift. In His infinite wisdom, God sent perfection down… so we don’t have to be.
“When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5