It’s Countdown to Christmas Time, and that means the sneaky spooky spying Elf on the Shelf is back. Like a member of the North Korean Secret Police, the little informer keeps tabs on folks and reports back to the Dear Leader. It just creeps me out.
My objection is not singularly with the Snoop on the Shelf, though. It’s what he (it?) represents, the whole naughty/nice mode of parental blackmail. “Be good, because Santa only brings toys to the good kids. You don’t want to get a lump of coal in your stocking, do you?”
Why does this stick in my craw like a carelessly swallowed shard of turkey wishbone? Because it contradicts the most fundamental message of Christmas. The naughty/nice dichotomy is more of a threat to the “real meaning of Christmas” than a herd of Happy Holidays-proclaiming cashiers or a forest of Festivus Poles.
The essence of Christmas is GRACE. Grace is God’s undeserved gift of forgiveness and salvation.
Here’s the thing – a Christmas system based on getting what you deserve is contrary to the grace embodied in the first Christmas. Jesus was most definitely not what we deserved. That baby in the manger wasn’t a gift for the “nice” . . . Jesus was born to save the “naughty.” Us.
The apostle Paul was clear on this: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (I Timothy 1:15).
I’ve written before that as a Christian and pastor I have no problem with Santa. I love Santa . . . because Santa loves all kids . . . not just the nice ones. I believe it is possible to incorporate Santa into our Christmas celebrations without losing the focus on God’s grace.
That means eliminating the naughty/nice stuff. This is something my wife, Karen, taught me. Our kids knew they were going to get presents at Christmas because they were loved, not because they were “good.” Christmas is a great time to talk about God’s love for everyone. It’s the perfect opportunity for discussions about grace.
Christmas is about God’s no matter who you are, no matter what you have done love for the world. We celebrate because all of us sinners – all of us “naughty” folks – got not a lump of coal in our stockings, but rather a Babe in a Manger.
(NOTE: I have intentionally overstated my feelings about Elf on the Shelf. I am NOT saying that you can’t be a “good Christian” – whatever that means – and play Elf on the Shelf with your kids. I’m encouraging parents – and non-parents – to consider the messages we choose to convey about Christmas. But the Elf on the Shelf really does give me the willies.)