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Santa Claus and the Gift of ImaginationDecember 22, 2017
Civilizations have often advanced on the backs of the imaginations of children. Walt Disney created an empire with imaginatively creative intuitions that began for him when he was a child. Henry Ford launched the automobile industry out of what he envisioned in his head. Or think of the Wright brothers (no known relation) who dreamed of a flying machine long before one left the ground. What did you imagine as a child that formed for you, or at least for some of us, a world in which you lived? Maybe you went to this world in your head because your real world of every day was so bad or maybe you went to this world because it was simply so fascinating. Would those of us who love Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling say that we are so sad that they had such vivid imaginations out of which came such fascinating worlds? I do love from time to time to visit Hogwarts again and to enter the world of Narnia. Nobody has to keep pounding in my head that these worlds are not really real, that they are creations of the imagination. I know that. I knew that when I first read Lewis and Tolkien as a teenager. I know that when I go to Disney World that I am in a world born of the creative imaging of men and women who love to enter and exit the worlds of their vivid imagination. And I know as every parent and teacher knows that the gift of the imagination is a beautiful and blessed gift from God to us. We would not have J. S. Bach or Keith Getty without such a gift. Give thanks to God for this wonderful gift that He has given as a “common grace” to the world.
I am very grateful to God for parents in our day who struggle with what to do with the whole Santa Claus question. I really do wish that I had had biblical thoughtfulness and spiritual sensitivity enough to struggle with it more than I did when our children were smaller. I grew up in a world of at best cultural/nominal Christianity where Christmas was not at all about Christ, even remotely; even among the good church people; it was all about the myth. The problem then and now was that somewhere along the way the myth became more real than it ever should have. Somewhere along the way what is a nice and neat story about a jolly, fat man in a red suit became too closely and wrongly connected to a historical figure so that story and history blended as one. What became and remains most disturbing is that we began to attach the words “true” and “Truth” to Santa, the sleigh, the reindeer and all the rest. What should have been left rightly and beautifully in the world of the imaginary migrated into the world of story and from the world of story into the realm of history. What was and is a fun and fascinating imaginary became more than “fake news” and created a false narrative to which too many people gave full credence.
It began over time to create real and right concerns for Christians who were finding it impossible to blend the story that is not Truth with the history that is Truth. What do you do with the child who unmasks the cover up and then wonders somewhere down the road what really is and isn’t true, or what is and is really not Truth? We would most naïve to think that such questions are not raised and that more than a few begin to wonder if anything is true and if anyone is really telling them the Truth? How do we handle this dilemma?
I think the answer is simple. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Rejecting all things secular about Christmas gets us nowhere. It does nothing to enhance Gospel witness and everything to impede Gospel Witness. Keep Santa and his sleigh, Rudolph and his reindeer at the level of the imagination from which marvelous stories can come. And keep the focus both in terms of time, energy and money spent or given on the Truth. It is one of the reasons that I say every year that we really are kidding ourselves if we say that Jesus is the reason for the season while spending more money on gifts than on giving to support the advance of the Gospel on the world. Besides, regardless of how you handle the Santa question; he has no power of ability to save anybody from the wrath of God. Jesus alone does that. And He does it for all who will believe. There is no Truth tied to Santa; Truth is in our Savior alone. I know that. I know that fully. But I still look in the sky on Christmas Eve and put out cookies and milk; it is the only night of the year that I can be sure that I can then eat those cookies and drink that milk and not add calories. That is a myth too. But I sure do like to believe at least on Christmas Eve that it is true. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.