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The Greatest Gift Ever Given
John 3:16-21

What would you say is the fundamental difference between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus? Disregard for the moment the obvious fact that Santa Claus is a fictional character and that Jesus is the single most important person ever to have walked on the face of the earth. What else is there that clearly distinguishes one of these persons from the other?

One of them came from heaven to a manger outside of Bethlehem, then on to a cross in Jerusalem, followed by ascension back to heaven, and is coming back to earth to establish his everlasting kingdom. The other one comes from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. One of them makes an appearance once a year on Christmas Day, while the other one has promised to be with us every day of our lives for as long as we live. Both of them have had songs written about them, but it may be in the lyrics of those songs that the clearest difference between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus is to be revealed.

Here is what they say about Santa Claus:

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,
He's going to 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.

Now listen to what they say about Jesus Christ:

I shall forever lift my eyes to Calvary,
To view the cross where Jesus died for me.
How marvelous the grace that caught my falling soul,
He looked beyond my faults and saw my needs.

Santa Claus keeps track of who has been naughty and nice and who has been good or bad. Then he gives good gifts to those who have been nice. In the Gospel according to Santa Claus, good children will find some toy or other treat under their tree or in their stocking on Christmas morning. Somewhere I heard that if you have been bad during the year then Santa leaves you a lump of coal. Most of us celebrate Christmas in accordance with the theology of Santa Claus. For most of us, Christmas is about giving and receiving gifts, and most of us only put on our Christmas list those people that we like and those people that have been good to us. We also keep track of who has been naughty and nice, and only those who have been nice to us will receive a gift from us for Christmas.

There are obviously two things wrong with this Gospel according to Santa Claus. The first problem with this approach to Christmas is that it buys in to the premise that Christmas is primarily about gifts and toys and presents that we give to each other. That is why most of the retail stores across the country opened for business at 6 am on the day after Thanksgiving; it is because they knew that people would be willing to line up and be ready to shop that early in the morning to buy the gifts they were going to give for Christmas. I know that I was not about to spend the night after Thanksgiving in a line outside of Wal Mart or any other store so that I could get a start on my Christmas shopping. Though most retail stores are counting on us to do just that, because they earn 40% of their annual profit during the Christmas season. One thing we learned from Santa Claus is that Christmas is about shopping and gifts.

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