this is a new series for Advent and Christmas; the series is called The Gift – unwrapping the true significance of Christmas
our experience When I was about 5 or 6 and my sense of morality was starting to take shape. I started hearing that there is a threat to this whole Santa Claus story and tradition that quite naturally made me pause when mum tried to push me towards the rather flamboyant old elf’s knee. Along with promise of gifts (or list of gifts) is a threat that’s typified by this:
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,
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town…
What?! Well that certainly tinges anticipation with uncertainty, the joy of expectation with a very clear kind of dread. Kind of spoilt it really. It was about then that I noticed a whole bunch of little kids treated the whole sitting on Santa’s knee thing with diffidence at best and sheer terror at worst. Why? Cos their parents seemed confused about whether he was an ogre sitting in judgment or a surprising and generous old benefactor.
Unfortunately we have the same confusion about God; it shows in our songs of old; He’s my harmless, trusted friend who will carry me through the worst of times; He’s the terrifying Judge seated in awesome majesty; the Jesus of the Gospels welcoming little children or the Jesus of Revelations coming in devastating judgement. Does God hold Santa Clause over us?
Who is God in this? Let’s start with Jesus’ own words in Luke 21. Pretty scary stuff. Kind of like 2012 the movie. Events taking place over which we have absolutely no control, in which we are helplessly swept along. What Jesus is showing us is the disastrous Cosmic consequences of human sin and rebellion and how that will come out in the end. That’s the threat – but it’s a threat humanity (us) has lived with since the Garden of Eden, and it is only a threat to those who have yet to embrace the loving mercy of God offered us in Jesus. For see what He says next: Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near! [v.28] Jesus comes with the gift of imperishable life, forming a community of the faithful as the centrepiece of His eternal Kingdom.
This sense of promise carried God’s people through some of their worst moments in exile, hear the words of Isaiah 52, in which the prophet depicts a vision of deliverance for the people of God from all that enslaved them for so long. Through Isaiah, the Spirit of God encourages the people to ready themselves to celebrate, telling them to dress in their best , to take a seat of honour , to shout and sing . Why is this? Because they are now to be released from the confusing existence of being a people or promise living in painful exile and bondage to ungodly powers. Here is all we hope for, Jesus our liberator returning in answer to all the promises He and the prophets have made, comforting His chosen as He opens the full meaning of the Gift for us, showing the whole Cosmos what the Gift is and what it can do for humanity and the whole Cosmos.
So what should you do? First, as a follower of Jesus the long-promised deliverer, don’t waste time and energy on fear of the future and God’s judgement. God’s plan for us is all good as the events of Christmas and Easter should remind us. So instead give your attention to listening for God’s direction and purpose for you in the now. Embrace the Gift and become a part of it’s unwrapping in the sight of our neighbours and community. Live in the assuring and fertile gardens of love, acceptance and forgiveness, not in the polluted environment of the threat.
Second, if you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, if you haven’t embraced the Gift for yourself, then you are under the threat. You are being shown clearly what the options are. But the news is all good for you too – it is in God’s plan for Jesus to rescue you from any kind of threat to your eternal hope, to draw you into His everlasting Kingdom of light and love. And if you are already a part of that it’s your privilege to make this wonderful reality known to those around you..perhaps more by your kindly action than by words that have an unfortunate tendency to sound so judgemental…though at sometime you may have to speak of what it is that’s driving you.
And at the local church we have a community of people already embraced by and transformed by the realisation of God’s extravagant love for them, a community that has nothing to fear from the threat of the future We are a shelter for the lost and struggling in our communities and neighbourhoods of love, compassion and healing empowered by the living Presence of God. What Gift do you do we have to offer to those who surround us on every side with their dread of the future with or without God?