Santa Claus, Christmas and

Santa Claus, Christmas and

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Dec. 14, 1994)

Top Billing: Jesus or Santa?

I make no secret of my passion for the Christmas season. It is my favorite time of year, in spite of all the merchandising that dominates the weeks leading up to it.

The Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits all levels of government from activities "respecting an establishment of religion." This means that government must be neutral toward religion. It may not foster religion. Thus Frosty, Santa, Rudolph, and "Seasons Greetings" banners have tended to replace Wise Men, shepherds, Madonnas, and "Merry Christmas" signs. But neither is it to be antagonistic either.

Some court challenges have "clarified" the legal issues so that we now understand it is still permissible, for example, to erect a creche on public property ó so long as secular symbols are also included. Thus we are treated to such silliness as Santa kneeling beside the baby Jesus.

In defense of our government and courts, it has never been their duty to promulgate the Christian faith. As best I can understand the New Testament, the desirable role of government in relation to the church is to keep civil order so that Godís people can spread the gospel.

It is the duty of the church to seize opportunities for telling the story of Jesus. And what opportunity is grander or more obvious than this season of the year? Yet my fear is that even Christians have come to the point of giving Santa more prominence than Jesus as we move toward December 25.

Are you reading seasonal books to your children or grandchildren? Singing seasonal songs with them? Putting up seasonal decorations? How many of those books, songs, and decorations are of snowmen, candy canes, elves, and Santa in relation to the number that relate to the biblical story of the incarnation?

Iím not suggesting that you make sure of equal numbers or tear down the "secular" trappings. Iím simply urging that you tell the real Christmas story at your house this year. There is no biblical command that Christians celebrate holidays at all ó whether the Fourth of July, Mothers Day, or Christmas. Yet Paul does lay down the principle that any holiday Christians choose to participate in is to be celebrated "to the Lord" (Rom. 14:5-6).

If you celebrate Christmas at all, please donít give your primary praise to Santa as the giver of good gifts. That honor belongs to God alone, and his greatest gift came to the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

So have a Merry Christmas at your house this year!

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