'Tis the season . . . for parents to decide if they will tell the truth about Santa.
When it comes to cultural issues like Santa, Christians have three options: (1) we can reject it, (2) we can receive it, or (3) we can redeem it.
Since Santa is so pervasive in our culture, it is nearly impossible to simply reject Santa as part of our annual cultural landscape. Still, as parents we don't feel we can simply receive the entire story of Santa because there is a lot of myth built on top of a true story.
So, as the parents of two children, Scott and I have taken the third position to redeem Santa. We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories.
We do not, however, demonize Santa. Dressing up, having fun, and using the imagination God gave can be an act of holy worship and is something that, frankly, a lot of adults need to learn from children.
What we are concerned about, though, is lying to our children. We teach them that they can always trust us because we will tell them the truth and not lie to them. Conversely, we ask that they be honest with us and never lie. Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but do teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged. We tell them the truth and encourage them to have fun watching Christmas shows on television and even sitting on Santa's lap for a holiday photo if they so desire. To date, neither of our children have wanted to sit on his lap. For parents of younger children wanting them to learn the real story of Santa Claus theVeggie Tales movie Saint Nicholas is a good choice. This year, my son saw Little Drummer Boy Veggie Tales style also.
The larger-than-life myths surrounding Santa Claus actually emanate from the very real person of Saint Nicholas. It is difficult to know the exact details of his life with certainty, as the ancient records are sparse, but the various pieces can be put together as a mosaic of his life.
Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. He was born into an affluent family, but his parents died tragically when he was quite young. His parents had raised him to be a devout Christian, which led him to spend his great inheritance on helping the poor, especially children. He was known to frequently give gifts to children, sometimes even hanging socks filled with treats and presents.
Perhaps his most famous act of kindness was helping three sisters. Because their family was too poor to pay for their wedding dowry, three young Christian women were facing a life of prostitution until Nicholas paid their dowry, thereby saving them from a horrible life of sexual slavery.
Nicholas grew to be a well-loved Christian leader and was eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city that the apostle Paul had previously visited (Acts 27:5-6). Nicholas reportedly also traveled to the legendary Council of Nicaea, where he helped defend the deity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325.
Following his death on December 6, 343, he was canonized as a saint. The anniversary of his death became the St. Nicholas holiday when gifts were given in his memory. He remained a very popular saint among Catholic and Orthodox Christians, with some two thousand churches named after him. The holiday in his honor eventually merged with Christmas, since they were celebrated within weeks of one another.
During the Reformation, however, Nicholas fell out of favor with Protestants, who did not approve of canonizing certain people as saints and venerating them with holidays. His holiday was not celebrated in any Protestant country except Holland, where his legend as Sinterklass lived on. In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him with the Christ child as the object of holiday celebration, or, in German, Christkindl. Over time, the celebration of the Christ child was simply pronounced Kris Kringle and oddly became just another name for Santa Claus.
The legends about Santa Claus are most likely a compilation of other folklore. For example, there was a myth in Nicholas' day that a demon was entering people's homes to terrorize children and that Nicholas cast it out of a home. This myth may explain why it was eventually believed that he came down people's chimneys.
Also, there was a Siberian myth (near the North Pole) that a holy man, or shaman, entered people's homes through their chimneys to leave them mushrooms as gifts. According to the legend, he would hang them in front of the fire to dry. Reindeer would reportedly eat them and become intoxicated. This may have started the myth that the reindeer could fly, as it was believed that the shaman could also fly. This myth may have merged with the Santa Claus myth, and if so, explains him traveling from the North Pole to slide down chimneys and leave presents on fireplace mantles before flying away with reindeer.
These stories of Santa Claus were first brought to America by Dutch immigrants. In the early twentieth century, stores began having Santa Claus present for children during the Christmas season. Children also began sending letters to the North Pole as the legends surrounding an otherwise simple Christian man grew.
In sum, Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved and served Jesus faithfully. So, we gladly include him in our Christmas traditions to remind us of what it looks like for someone to live a life of devotion to Jesus as God. Our kids thank us for being both honest and fun, which we think is what Jesus wants.
Image by Patrick Mahoney
Well, I'm back. Not that I really went anywhere, I just haven't been here on my blog in a while. I promised to return in December and I made it into the first half by just a hair! I have most of my Christmas shopping done, most of the gifts are even wrapped (Thanks to no good places left to hide them!) and I've also managed to make some gifts for the teachers, helpers and other miscellaneous people that we give small gifts to this time of year. It's a low budget year for us, but at least I managed to get Christmas cards made. Still waiting on delivery of said cards, hopefully they will get out before Christmas!
Anyway, there are so many things I've been thinking about for the last few weeks; what to post, how to post it, what to say about it, so on and so forth. I don't really have any new super cool ideas, but I have a few prompts that I'm going to shoot out.
Look for the following posts in coming weeks;
I'm sure I'll have a few more, I'm just not sure if they will make it out before Christmas. There are quite a few things going on between then and now! I pray you have a wonderful Christmas season remembering the reason why we celebrate this wonderful time of year.
God - very God - became a babe all because of divine love. Christmas exists because of God's eternal, infinite, sacrificial love for those Jesus came to redeem. Should we not then, who have experienced His love, strive to preserve the essence of its beginnings by intentionally and passionately sharing His love with others? You answer, "Of course". But I say, "F irst, there are a few prerequisites".
Sharing God's love has to be motivated by the incomprehensible truths surrounding it. One such truth is that love exists only because God exists. God is love (1 John 4:8) and love is of God (John 4:7). He is the Author and Essence of love. There is no love outside of God.
And though describing God's love is like trying to fit the ocean into a thimble, let us bombard our minds with its majestic character. God's love is:
Spontaneous and uninfluenced. His love stems from Himself alone. There was nothing in you or I that predisposed God to love us. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We were ill-deserving of His love and should have been objects of His wrath. He loves us because He is love and chooses to demonstrate His love to delight us and to glorify Himself.
Immutable. God's love can undergo no change of any kind since He is unchangeable Himself. His love for you will never diminish because of your sin, nor increase because of your obedience. It is based purely on His grace, never on your performance.
Since God has sovereignly set His affections upon you, nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God , "…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing"(Romans 8:38-39).
Infinite. There are no limits, no boundaries, nor constraints in the expression and depth of God's love. "The measure of God's love is seen in how much it gives…The cross is the crowning proof of the reality and boundlessness of God's love" (J. I. Packer). He gave the greatest, most infinitely precious gift of all time when He gave His Son.
Eternal. Since God is eternal, it follows that His love must be also. He did not begin to love you when you turned to Him. No. Not even so much as one nanosecond has ever existed in which His love was not fixed upon you.
Holy. God demands holiness in the objects He chooses to lavish His love on. But this demand was not put upon us. No. Rather, His great compassionate heart compelled Him to send His perfect Son to become our sin bearer, making us righteous before Him and qualifying us to be recipients of His magnificent love.
Because of the Fall, man has notoriously failed at love on every level. The fact that mankind craves to love and be loved simply testifies of the remnant of God's image within him.
Man's love antennae has been seriously damaged and it took the God of love to redeem man, empowering him to love again. We can now love because God "first loved us" (1 John 4:19) and manifested that love by sending His Son, born of a woman, into our cruel world to rescue us from our unlove.
Being creatures of habit, it is natural for us to fall into our daily routines and be satisfied with the status quo, assured that all is right in our little worlds. But not so, according to the One who sees our hearts and the lack of love there for Him and others.
Revelation 2:2 reveals that we can do a multitude of good things - even serious ministry – without love. Jesus commands us then to remember, repent and pursue our fir st love (a passionate love for Christ) and the resulting outflow of that love.
We must daily be coming under the influence of Gods' divine love in order to manifest it back to Him and others. We fall short in our perception and expression of love until we, being awestruck by God and His love, realize how dependent we are upon His Spirit to allow His love to flow like rivers of living water from our innermost beings (John 7:38). It happens only as we first sit at Christ's feet, loving and listening to Him through His word. Charles Spurgeon said, “You cannot love a thing without becoming something like it, in proportion to the force of love; and just in proportion as you love Jesus you must become like him.” Only by loving Christ can we become like Him and love as He loves.
True validity cannot really be given to the celebration of Christmas until divine love is its preeminent purpose and expression just as it was for the first Christmas. By definition, divine love is the "bond of perfection" or unity (Colossians 3:14). Love unites. Other purposes, excellent as they may be, can bring about unnecessary division. Motivations such as traditions, family, ministry, food, witness and even faith, when divine love is not preeminent, produce only a clamorous event (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) which profits nothing for honoring the God of love. So, as we go about our activities let us purpose to set love – the perfect bond of unity – above all else. May we not just be busy this Christmas feeding the hungry, preparing our real food feasts, guarding our children from the paganism and materialism of the secular celebration of the holiday or whatever else is of importance to you. Rather, may God's eternal and indescribable love be the beginning and end of all we do and say. "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."Colossians 3:14
Fall, Back to School, Halloween, Daylight Saving Time, these milestones have passed. 2010 is quickly drawing to a close. “The Holidays” are upon us.
A man once said, “Boy, the holidays are rough. Every year I just try to get from the day before Thanksgiving to the day after New Year’s.”
The potential is certainly there to shift into “survival mode” between Thanksgiving and the start of the New Year. Yet, whatever happened to this being “the most wonderful time of the year?” Now is the time to be proactive and make the coming weeks restful, memorable, and meaningful.
So how do we enter the season with these goals in mind?
If we want the next six weeks to be restful, memorable, and meaningful, then we need to have some plans. Does money cause you stress? Then set a holiday budget and stick to it. Are you looking for ways to capture sweet memories with your kids? Then consider ways to play more games, read more books, and unplug a little more in the coming weeks. Will cooking a big meal send you into a frenzy? Plan some freezer-friendly dishes or easy crockpot recipes and take a load off.
Develop plans today that will help you enjoy the experience.
Have you been burning the candle at both ends? Does this mean that November and December will be more harried for you? Just say, “No.” Now.
Put margin into your life. Go to sleep earlier. Sleep a little later. Exercise. Drink lots of water. And prioritize.
Do family get-togethers hinder your restfulness during this time of year? Discuss this with your spouse now and problem-solve together. Think of ways to relieve some of the stresses and make the holidays more enjoyable. Maybe you won’t make four stops on Christmas Eve and 2 more the next day. If staying home gives you peace, then this is the year to be peaceful!
Spend your holiday season in ways that help you reach your goals.
You can’t do it all. And sometimes what sounds good in November has you pulling your hair out a few weeks later. Be okay with changing your plans.
Be practical and revisit your goals. Is this restful? Is this memorable — in a good way? Is this meaningful? If an activity doesn’t fit that criteria and can be avoided, well, I say, “Ditch it.”
Enough is as good as a feast. So says Ma Ingalls, and I agree. You don’t need to go overboard. Your cheery disposition will bless your family more than any sugarplums can.
I know from experience that when I set off on plans and adventures, those plans and adventures have a much better way of turning out well if I’ve spent time praying and reflecting first. This isn’t because I’ve manipulated God. We can’t do that.
Instead, when I take my hopes and plans to God, He shows me the right way to go. He changes my desires to better fit me and my family.By His Spirit, He clues me into folly that might await me if I go “my” way.
CS Lewis is quoted as saying, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God — it changes me.
Prayer is not about us getting what we want. It’s about God changing us to want what is good for us. Let’s go into the holidays with this mindset.
How will YOU enter the season?
The word "advent" means arrival or coming in Latin. Specifically, it relates to the coming of the Christ at the incarnation. Advent is celebrated in the weeks leading up to the day we set aside to remember the birth of the Messiah. It begins four Sundays before December 25, whether that Sunday is in November or December. This year Advent begins on Sunday, November 28th. However, when using an Advent calendar, counting down the days till Christmas begins either 24 or 25 days before, usually on December 1st or 2nd.
Thousands of years before Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, God's people anticipated His coming. They longed and looked for the Messiah, the One who would set things right. During that time of waiting, no one knew when or how God would send the Promised One to redeem mankind.
On this side of Bethlehem when celebrating Advent, in essence, we are re-enacting the many years that God's people waited patiently and anticipated the coming of the Messiah, man's only hope for restoration with God. Now that the waiting, is over we have all the more reason to rejoice because of God's indescribable gift of LOVE, His own Son. In a world that has no place for Jesus, Advent really is about preparing our hearts for the Savior – making room for and receiving Him with joy, humility and gratitude into our lives, celebrations and families.
Image by kelanew
Advent serves a tool to point our children to Christ, the Promised Savior. An Advent calendar, as a family tradition, is one way children can become acquainted with the details of the incarnation. The calendar counts down to Christmas as the child opens a little door or pocket, etc. each day to reveal some small treasure that is hidden. My Advent calendar – compliments of my mom – uses little felt nativity figures. One day a magi is revealed, another day a lamb or an angel, right up to the day before Christmas or Christmas day itself. By then, the scene is complete, baby Jesus and all.
The nativity figures, after being removed from that day's pocket, door, box or envelope, etc., could be ornaments that get hung on the tree or used to assemble a separate nativity scene. There are child-friendly creches available now that are unbreakable (see links below for purchased Advent calendars). A Portion of the Christmas story could be read, corresponding to the nativity figurine for that day until it is completed on the last day.
There are a multitude of ideas available below. Also, click on the different photos in this post for links to tutorials, etc. If you start now, you should have more than enough time to be ready by December 1st. Take a look at the following links to get started; and don't forget to involve the kiddos in putting the calendar together.