For many, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” You got the kids jingle-belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer, and the parents manipulating, and everyone telling you Santa is near! “Wait…that’s not the way the song goes,” you say. And you’re right. It’s not the way the song goes. But it is often the way our American culture goes.
While Christmas can be the most sentimental time of the year, is not always the most wonderful. After a few days (or maybe just a few hours), our kids start to go crazy. And, Mom and Dad? Well they, “can hardly wait for school to start again!” But until that day arrives, they have to cope with their kids as best they can. So, us parents start appealing to the Big man up North. As the song says, “You better watch out…Santa Clause is coming to town!” “Junior, you do that one more time, and I’ll tell Santa not to bring you any presents.” Oh, the holiday manipulation! But wait…it gets better!
In an effort to make those threats all the more real, Santa was incarnated. Ok not quite. But his magical little, scout elf started appearing all over America back in 2005. Thanks to The Elf on the Shelf series, Santa is no longer just something our kids sing about. All December long, Little Susie and Sally now have a direct line to the Santa. They get to interact with Santa’s tiny mediator. And the elf promises, “A push or a shove I’ll report to ‘” The Boss,”’ but a small acts of kindness will not be a loss.” Finally, our kids can understand how Santa “knows if you have been bad or good.”
Not too surprisingly, this wonderful, new, little tradition prompts, “children to better control themselves.” (Admittedly, the authors of The Elf on the Shelf reportedly didn’t see that one coming; but hey, it works so why fix it!). Remember kids, “the scout Elf is watching!”
So what’s the big deal? Don’t we want our kids to exercise self-control? The answer is most decidedly yes! We want our kids to behave well. And no, The Elf on the Shelf is not the worst Christmas tradition ever. (Watch “Fred Clause” sometime. Any hoo…moving on…)
But, Christmas is about the free gift of eternal life. Jesus didn’t arrive so that good little boys and girls could work their way to heaven. He didn’t come to save the self-righteous. He came to save the lost, the down trodden, and the sinners. When we make Christmas about works and manipulation, we distort Christ; we distort the whole point of Christmas. We should give our kids gifts because we love them. They don’t deserve them. At least, I never did as a kid.
“Really?” you say; “C’mon Peter, one little Christmas tradition is not going to hurt our kids.” And if you mean that decorating with a elf and reading a new story is harmless, I essentially agree with you. But if we go a step further and use the elf to control our kids’ heart at home, we are walking on thine ice.
Let’s take look.
Instead of Junior obeying us to honor God, he obeys out of selfishness. I.e. he acts on the thought, “If I do what my parents say, I get more gifts.” His heart hasn’t changed. The selfish spirit that caused him to color your living room wall with a permanent marker has just been rechanneled. He obeys you this time not because he’s sorry. He fears the elf. He realizes that he gets more presents when he doesn’t color the wall than when he does. In short, he has simply found a more convenient way to express his selfish impulses. Instead of getting closer to Jesus at Christmas, instead of realizing his need for the free gift of salvation that he could never earn, he drifts off into the world of self-righteous confidence. According to his adopted elf friend, he’s good enough for Santa. Junior might be tempted to rest in that praise.
And at the end of the day, the best news for us parents is this: God is own our side. The God of the universe who created Saint Nicholas commands children to, “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Friends, Santa’s not watching our kids but God is! (He also will be judging them. – I Peter 4:5) Our authority and our power comes from Him. And, we discipline not to keep our kids from embarrassing us, from stressing us out, or from ruining Christmas. We discipline to show our kids the despair of their sin and the hope of Christ. True obedience can only be achieved through Christ. Why should we exchange the beautiful charge of God for an imaginary guy who lives with little people and drinks hot chocolate all year long?
This Christmas let’s keep our focus on the message of the nativity, the good news that salvation has come. God is with us. I think it’s time to shelve the elf!
Are you ready?