Today’s Bible reading
My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted. – Galatians 4:1-11
More thoughts for meditation
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” is more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.” (Want to hear Michelle Obama and Kermit the Frog read it?). It is a poem first published anonymously in 1823 in Troy, New York, and later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, who claimed authorship in 1837. It may be the best-known verses ever written by an American. It is largely responsible for everyone’s conception of Santa Claus and has had a massive impact on the history of Christmas gift-giving. Before the poem gained wide popularity, American ideas had varied considerably about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors.
According to legend, “A Visit” was composed by Clement Moore on a snowy winter’s day during a shopping trip on a sleigh. His inspiration for the character of Saint Nicholas was a local Dutch handyman as well as the historical Saint Nicholas (for the saint, check here). Moore originated many of the features that are still associated with Santa Claus today while borrowing other aspects, such as the use of reindeer. His conception was influenced by his friend, Washington Irving, but Moore portrayed his “jolly old elf” as arriving on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. At the time that Moore wrote the poem, Christmas Day was overtaking New Year’s Day as the preferred family holiday of the season among the upper crust, but some Protestants viewed Christmas as full of Catholic influences (as in St. Nicholas) and still had reservations. By having St. Nicholas arrive the night before, Moore deftly shifted the focus away from Christmas Day with its problematic religious associations. As a result, New Yorkers embraced Moore’s child-centered version of Christmas as if they had been doing it all their lives. “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was eventually set to music and gained even wider influence.
Although it was Clement Moore who created the image, our present picture of Santa Clause comes from Coca Cola’s advertisement campaign, first generated in 1931. Coca Cola recognized a loss in sales during the Christmas holiday; to encourage sales, the company created a Christmas advertisement featuring Moore’s image of Santa. However, Coca Cola replaced Santa’s pipe with a glass of Coke. These advertisements provided Santa with his customary red and white suit, Coca Cola logo colors. The presence of Santa in shopping centers and homes provided a strong visual presence for the Santa brand. Movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” did even more to solidify the Coke Santa as central to the holiday. Christmas has been transformed through advertisements, movies, and music into a season of materialism, purchases, and commercialism.
An interceding saint who gives gifts to much-loved children might be excused as a charming expression of the grace of God, though maybe too unfactual to be healthy. A coke-drinking Santa overseeing a magical toy-making factory at the North Pole is a consumer-driven mess. How do we sort through the mess to the meaning?
The scripture for today helps. While Paul would have no trouble upending the Christ-replacing celebration of Christmas in the United States. He would also insist that our secure place as God’s children gives us the freedom to receive our inheritance and not let anyone demean or destroy it. We are no longer “enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world” due to the work that began with the birth of Jesus! So we would not observe various seasons like the world around us like we used to when we were enslaved to “weak and beggarly elemental spirits.” Rather, we move through our time as God’s children, having received the “Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” That relationship sorts out the mess and opens us up to receive whatever goodness is in each moment, even as we vividly recognize the evil tempting us to fall back where we came from.
Suggestions for action
It might be difficult, but it is possible to teach your children a Christian view of Santa Claus that honors the original saint and strains out the nonsense that accrued in the United States.
You might say to them, “Santa Claus is all about how your parents and our Lord love children. He is a symbol of the grace which is deep in the heart of who we are.” We might have to say such things a lot, because Coke will be offering their version, too, which is heavy on elemental spirits and denuded of Jesus.
As you listen to the ultimate musical-comedy performance of the song that came from the poem, from the home of musical-comedy lovers: Utah, see if you can sort out the fun and the love while you strain out the nonsense, including the nonsense associated with your own refusal to receive the fun and the love of the season. Just because many people are blind and silly, doesn’t mean their corruption should infect your joy. You are God’s child and God is a gifter: “you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”