It is interesting to observe the cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding the variety of expressions of Christmas at this time of year - from shopping centres to social engagements, the nativity to mistletoe, Christmas lights to Christmas carols, Santa Claus to Jesus Christ. From my observation, out of all of these Christmas customs, none seems to attract more controversy than the elevation of Santa Claus over Jesus Christ or vice versa.
For some, Christmas is centred around an overweight, jolly man in a red suit from the North Pole.
For others, Christmas is centred around a new born baby in a manger from Bethlehem.
From a cultural perspective, Santa represents the generosity and goodwill of humankind.
From a Christian perspective, Jesus represents the grace and glory of God.
Beyond the historical origins of St Nicholas, Santa Claus perpetuates the magic of Christmas.
Beyond the prophetic origins of Messiah, Jesus Christ personifies the miracle of Christmas.
To a secular mind, the joy of Christmas is found in receiving gifts from Santa.
To a spiritual mind, the joy of Christmas is found in receiving the gift of Jesus.
Santa Claus is a myth wrapped in a red suit given central place in community celebrations.
Jesus Christ is a miracle wrapped in swaddling given central place in Christian worship.
The North Pole has become a Christmas scene capturing the imagination of some.
The Nativity has become a Christmas story capturing the hearts of others.
Christmas movies seek to engender a spirit of belief in Father Christmas.
Christmas carols seek to express a spirit of praise for the Christ of Christmas.
It fascinates me that a sophisticated secular culture chooses an expression of Christmas that perpetuates a myth rather than an expression of Christmas that promotes a miracle. It seems that flying reindeer, elves and a benevolent old man who visits every child on earth in a single night are more credible than an angel, a manger and a messianic child who came to earth as a part of God's salvation plan.
It troubles me that segments of a Christian culture have allowed the magic and myth of Santa to hijack the miracle of the Christ child and to confuse the message of Christmas. It seems that a cultural expectation of Christmas has become a higher priority for many Christians than a biblical experience of Christmas in their festivities and family engagements.
It challenges me to keep Christ central in every expression of Christmas from our church while engaging with our community so that Jesus may be elevated higher than any other cultural expression of Christmas.