The tree is up, the stockings are hung, the outside of the house shimmers in the incandescent glow of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights, and my fat pants are finding themselves a more frequent daily wardrobe selection.
Christmas is here!
So much to love! So much to celebrate! Yet in the midst of all the glistening tinsel, sappy music, and perennial gingerbread buzz, there’s one thing that deeply troubles me about this time of the year (yes, even more than those giant blow-up yard elves).
It’s the naughty list.
Santa’s black book of failure lined with the names of those mischievous souls that just couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble. I’ll admit, I’ve threatened my children with it. Be good and there’s gifts. Be bad and there’s a lump of coal (or worse yet, pink rabbit pajamas from your Aunt Clara). But nothing could be more opposite of the true message of Christmas than Santa’s manifest of misbehavior.
Let’s be honest, Santa’s a manipulator. He demands a standard of goodness we must live up to in order to get the good stuff he’s giving out. And while I’ll admit, this is a very handy tool for parents looking for a little compliance during the month of December, it couldn’t be more antithetical to the reason Jesus came to earth all those Christmases ago.
When our understanding of God centers around reconciling our behavior to meet certain standards, life becomes heavy. Yet that’s where so many of us seem to live (if we don’t just choose to opt out of the “God-concept” altogether). And that leaves “righteousness” to those who are naturally compliant or more self-disciplined. It never addresses the core of the problem.
We’re not naughty, we’re dead. And really, how good do you have to be before you stop being dead?
Jesus came to give us life, not just morality. So does that mean we all get a free pass to the Nice List? That how we live doesn’t matter? Not at all. It’s just a not so subtle reminder that you can’t fix you (sorry Coldplay fans), so Jesus did it for you.
When you spend your life trying to be good enough for God, you’re going to be exhausted. Frustrated. Burnt out. A lot of you will quit. And for the rest of you who think you’re succeeding, you’re probably too arrogant and annoying for anyone to want to hang around.
A life pleasing to God isn’t achieved by avoiding the naughty list. It’s a gift that we’re given. The life of a baby boy. The Son of God. Born in a manger. Savior of the world.
Alive in us.