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The Christmas Intruder

Friday, December 20, 2013 | Comments (19)

by John MacArthur 

In 2011 Christmas fell on a Sunday, and several churches canceled their church services because they didn’t want to interrupt Christmas. What a bizarre idea—not wanting to impose the worship of Jesus Christ on the day we celebrate His birth!

It is, however, an even greater paradox that another figure has been allowed to intrude on many Christmas celebrations every year. He is everywhere at this time of the year, and far more prevalent than any representation of Jesus Christ.

There is even a “hymn” dedicated to this intruder—one that explains his “theology.” And we all know the lyrics, as do our children:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

Yes, Santa Claus is nothing more than a popular fairy tale. And yet he dominates the scene every year at Christmas.

What is remarkable about Santa is that his supposed power is eerily similar to God’s. He’s a transcendent being, not limited by the physical laws of this world. He can fly around the entire planet in a single night, stopping at every house along the way. And he’s surrounded by other heavenly beings that likewise aren’t subject to the constraints placed on the rest of creation. Santa is also omnipresent—he sees you when you’re sleeping. He’s omniscient—he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.

The mythological Santa operates in a paradigm of benevolent promises and benign threats. If you’re good, you’ll get gifts. If you’re bad, you won’t. But, really, aren’t we left with the sense that everyone is rewarded with a gift, and any naughtiness is forgiven with a wink of Santa’s eye?

So not only does Santa fail to tell the truth, he’s not consistent within his own system of works righteousness. He makes threats but doesn’t follow through on them. Theologically, Santa Claus is a universalist. Ultimately everyone receives his favor.

Put simply, Santa is a fictional heavenly being of questionable character—he doesn’t tell the truth, makes empty threats, demands good works, rewards the disobedient, and only shows up once a year. Those traits fall far short of the true God who only speaks truth, keeps all His promises, judges those who reject Him, gives salvation by grace through faith and not by works, and is always present.

One of the saddest ironies about Christmas is that many think of Christ, not Santa Claus, as an unwelcome intruder.  Not only does Santa’s long and dark shadow obscure the true message of Christmas, even the familiar nativity scene freezes time and locks in many minds the image of Christ as a helpless newborn, and nothing more.

But the babe in the manger grew up—He is no longer an “infant, tender and mild.”  He is Jesus the Messiah, God incarnate, the revelation of God’s glory and His very image (Hebrews 1:3). The birth of Christ was the greatest condescension the world has ever known (Philippians 2:5–8), and His thirty-three years of human existence fulfilled all of God’s demands for sinless perfection on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus took on a body of human flesh so that He might bear in that body the punishment that sinners like us rightly deserved (1 Peter 2:24).

Unlike Santa’s, the Lord’s favor does not depend on our righteousness (Ephesians 2:1-9). Through His life and death, Christ made possible the greatest of gifts—eternal life (Romans 6:23)—given by His grace alone. And the good news of God’s gift is the sum of the Christmas message.

I’m not advocating for Santa’s complete expulsion, but let’s be sure to keep him where he belongs: with the other fictional characters of childhood whimsy. Don’t surrender to him any territory or focus that rightly belongs to Christ. And this year, as you prepare for your own Christmas celebration, let the words of another hymn reverberate in your heart:

O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.


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#1  Posted by Jeff Taylor  |  Friday, December 20, 2013at 8:51 AM

Amen. And a wonderful, truthful reminder of , as the cliche goes "the reason for the season". It grieves me deeply just how far we have strayed. May God have mercy on us. God bless you and Merry Christmas to you and your family, John. I am greatly blessed and encouraged by your ministry.

#2  Posted by Sterling Brown  |  Friday, December 20, 2013at 9:27 AM

Thank you so much Pastor John MacArthur for this blog post. Being reminded to be focused on the true meaning of Christmas which is Christ is needed in today's climate. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family. Also to the Grace to You and Grace Community Church family as well. Here on the east coast we love you all, praying for you and praise God for your willingness to preach, live and contend for God's will and truth.

#3  Posted by Thomas Strong  |  Friday, December 20, 2013at 10:57 AM

Amen!

#4  Posted by George Canady  |  Friday, December 20, 2013at 11:24 AM

The "traditional Christian front yard" Christmas I grew up with in the sixties "on my side of the tracks" had Santa on the roof with sleigh, a nativity scene in the yard with wise men and (infant?) baby Jesus..... surly this is not the Christ we are trying to keep in Christmas.

#5  Posted by George Canady  |  Friday, December 20, 2013at 11:51 AM

Thanks for giving me a chance to modify my convictions but my early memories now include grief when I think of my privilege as a white Christian at Christmas time. I know now how unaware I was to the suffering on the other side of town in the 1960s. It just seems an important, yet secondary point to me to argue over the reality of Santa and a traditional understanding of Christmas when I remember so many have been denied participation in the inclusive celebration of the truth of the real Jesus by those who knew Him well. I am forgiven but the memory remains.

#6  Posted by Rose Michels  |  Friday, December 20, 2013at 12:53 PM

I loved this blog post. :)

#7  Posted by Dan Commini  |  Monday, December 23, 2013at 8:29 AM

G Canady, there are a couple of things that stand out to me in what you wrote that seem inconsistent with what I understand Christians to be. You said you think of yourself as a "white Christian," and that "so many have been denied participation... by those who knew Him well." Those statements don't make any sense to me. First of all, we (Christians) are not "white Christians," "black Christians," "hispanic Christians," "Asian Christians," etc. We're supposed to be thinking of ourselves as "Jesus Christians!" Followers of Jesus Christ! We all have the same Father, and are all of the same family. We need to stop thinking in terms of segregation; it's not Biblical! Every race on this Earth has been enslaved at one time or another, mistreated and abused! We can either hold on to the past and continue to be victims; or, we can release the debts at the cross of Christ and say, "it is enough."

Secondly, they may have known their beliefs well, but could they have excluded people of a different color, or maybe simply those who were/are less fortunate than themselves if they really knew Jesus "well"? Those to whom you are referring may have known Jesus, and to be sure, people who know Jesus sometimes do some awful things. But if your premise is correct about them excluding others out of ill intent, then doesn't that imply they never knew him "well"?

#8  Posted by Astrea Jones  |  Monday, December 23, 2013at 11:17 AM

As usual Pastor MacArthur has hit the nail squarely on the head! I am saddened by the number of Christian parents who not only make Santa Clause a focus of their celebration but LIE to their children consistently to make them believe that Santa is real. Santa is an idol in American culture and deserves no place in the celebration of our glorious Lord's birth!

#9  Posted by Gina Cook  |  Monday, December 23, 2013at 12:55 PM

Great article! And another disturbing attribute of the celebration of Santa is the sin of lying that goes with it. Unlike other fictional heroes that our children like, such as superman and Cinderella, Santa is said to be real and parents go all out to convince their children that he is real. Others are reprimanded for saying to children that he's not real. I've been given the evil eye and harsh words by many when they find out that my children do not have anything to do with Santa. I was raised to believe in him and have 'wonderful' memories of waking up to see what he got us. I even celebrated it with my toddlers before I was born again, then I soon realized that the celebration and adoration of Santa, especially the lying, was unbiblical and took focus off of Christ. Lying is wrong, no matter how you slice it. God is clear about that in His Word.

#10  Posted by Suzanne Tromburg  |  Monday, December 23, 2013at 2:22 PM

A hearty amen to this.

I especially appreciate this wise advice:

"I’m not advocating for Santa’s complete expulsion, but let’s be sure to keep him where he belongs: with the other fictional characters of childhood whimsy. Don’t surrender to him any territory or focus that rightly belongs to Christ."

I came across what I thought was thee consummate identifier for "Santa..I shall now refer to him (as needed) as the "Christmas clown". A few years ago my then 3 yr old grandson, while noticing a vintage picture of a Santa that I had hanging, pointed to it and said "look..Noah!" Ha :)

~Merry Christmas and a blessed new year to all!

#11  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Monday, December 23, 2013at 3:12 PM

Astrea, You are welcome to your opinion, but I suggest you read Romans 14. I don’t think it was MacArthur’s intent to run Santa over with a truck but to contrast the two in an attempt wake some people up.

#12  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Tuesday, December 24, 2013at 7:14 AM

Thank you Suzanne for reminding us of the final paragraph of Pastor John's post.

Thank you Ben for reminding us of Romans 14.

I'll bet little Johnny got coal in his stocking a time or two.

Merry Christmas all (joyfully weeping).

#13  Posted by Walt & Joyce Burrows  |  Wednesday, December 25, 2013at 7:05 AM

Recently came across pictures of an impressionable childhood visit to Santa's Workshop at North Pole, NY along with a then-very-treasured letter from Santa, himsELF. Was that, also, a picture of a church function with "me" dressed as Santa delivering presents to the adults? Still vividly recall being tucked safely into bed too excited to sleep awaiting the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof the Christmas Eve it was learned "Yes, dear child ~ the one anxiously awaited(though taught the real story being churched from birth) was merely a FAIRY tale.". By God's great grace, that night was a forerunner to the genuine relationship with our Lord Savior along with a greater relationship of trust with future desired children ~ a realized relationship replete with others(even total strangers quite dismayed), sadly, doing their best to override their Pop and Mum to enlighten them of the reality of the Easter Bunny and Santa. Don't be deceived...God is not mocked; His absolute truth still matters ~ we may joyfully mark those words and wisely judge and manage fairy tales.

Pleasantly, my introduction to Grace to You was through a radio broadcast offering the book, God With Us: The Miracle of Christmas. My heart leaped reading the convicting and confirming words within that book; I'm so very, very grateful to God and you, John. God has abundantly blessed us all ~

O come, let us adore Him,

Christ the Lord.

JOYce :-)

#14  Posted by Tom Westervelt  |  Wednesday, December 25, 2013at 8:54 AM

Looking at how this mythological figure has caused the world at large to turn its focus away from the true "reason for the season", is it merely "coincidence" that his name can be rearranged to spell the name of the greatest enemy of God and man?

#15  Posted by Joanne Beange  |  Wednesday, December 25, 2013at 11:34 AM

Another point for Christian parents to consider goes hand-in-hand with the lying issue. That is, the importance of God's Word in our lives. Does it apply to all of life's situations or only the ones that we choose? All lying is sin according to Scripture. If believers condone it, even in what they think is harmless fun, then we make what God says on the topic irrelevant. And then we must ask ourselves, just what part of the Word is relevant and when? How can we expect our children to trust God and what He says is true if, as parents, we knowingly condone lying/sin? If children see their parents picking and choosing just what to obey, how can we expect our children to do otherwise? God and His truth are no longer the standard by which we live and become important only when one chooses them to be so.

#16  Posted by Kelly Whalen  |  Wednesday, December 25, 2013at 4:40 PM

This is interesting (What is remarkable about Santa is that his supposed power is eerily similar to God’s.)

Because my sister calls him satan claus!

#17  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Thursday, December 26, 2013at 6:44 AM

Excellent from Nathan Busenitz: If you want to know the true Saint Nicolas, connect to Grace Media and listen to 'Christmas Evangelism' delivered 12.15.2013

http://www.gracechurch.org/media/8271/christmas_evangelism/

#18  Posted by Kristina H  |  Thursday, December 26, 2013at 8:07 AM

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and we all have our own interpretation. I simply think that John MacArthur is just reminding people of the importance of Christmas. He is reminding those who have strayed from the true meaning of Christmas and asking people not to forget the Lord. Many have forgotten who He is and what Christmas really means, that is obvious. Every Christmas season I hear people expressing how excited they are for the "Holidays" and they stress over what they are going to eat and feed the guests, what to buy one another, who has the most beautiful and brightest lights in the neighborhood. Stores are crowded with shoppers, prices are through the roof, comercials about the "greatest gift" this Christmas have exploded on the radio and television. Shows, movies, activities etc etc. I think this

is what should really be brought to our attention because this is not a fairytale, it's real life. It is something people have allowed to corrupt their minds for a long time not just the first 4 or 5 years of their lives and sadly some allow this to be their main focus their entire lives. Yes, some people can do all these things and still hold on to the real meaning of Christmas and not lose focus on what is really important, but many can not and many need to be reminded. This is something that truly takes your mind off of the meaning of Christmas, I know this because i see some of my family members and friends do it. And the greatest gift at Christmas and always is not a fancy handbag at Bloomingdales or the hottest jeans that will make you the center of attention at every Christmas party, it's having Jesus Christ in your life and being blessed by his word. I believed in Santa until I was about 5 but I always knew who Jesus Christ was and I always knew what Christmas meant (not from my parents sadly but from other sources). My daughter is 16 months and this year we took her to take a picture with this fictional character, santa. We also left a cookie and some milk out for him and we told her the kitchen set came from santa. But we left it at that. He wasnt and never will be glorified in my home and my children will always know the TRUE meaning of Christmas and they will always know who Christ is (not just on Christmas). My brother sent me this article and I think there should be more people like my brother, John MacArthur, and people like you who remind those who have made this fairytale real life.

#21  Posted by Juan Palermo  |  Monday, January 06, 2014at 10:11 AM

Sad. The world celebrates a Christmas without Jesus. Not even named him. It's a Christmas atheists. A celebration of the antichrist.