Is Santa Just?
by Joseph Franks
Santa Claus is somewhat divine; at least this is how most present him to their children.
He is adorable. Santa is worshiped by many around the globe who sing his songs, long to sit in his lap, pray for specific blessings, and leave cookies for when he comes to visit.
He is omnipresent. Simultaneously he is found in shopping malls and parades across the country.
He is omnipotent. Santa produces, packages, and distributes billions of toys and gifts with effortless ease.
He is omniscient, He sees men when they’re sleeping. He knows when they’re awake. He knows if they’ve been bad or good.
He is judicious. He promises gifts to nice individuals while reserving lumps of coal for those deemed naughty. And he is most serious about this, for he makes a list and checks it twice.
He is coming again. Boys and girls can count on it, “Santa Clause is coming to town.”
Therefore, by wise folk he is to be feared, Prudent individuals had better change their actions and attitudes; they had “better not pout, and better not cry.”
However, while there is no song presenting this final characteristic, Santa Claus is also believed to be gracious. For most, while understanding their own naughtiness and that of their children, still anticipate Santa coming to town with presents for all. Somehow Santa’s bark is more ferocious than his bite. The law and expectations of Santa are presented. So too are the consequences of failing to keep Santa’s law. But in the end, all believe Santa will act as a charitable grandfather and forgo treating naughty individuals in the manner they deserve.
Therefore, Santa is judicious, but he is not just. He is not one who upholds righteousness. He discourages not wickedness. He does not honor the law, neither does he really endorse good behavior. He treats “naughty” and “nice” alike. And worse than this, he is fickle and dishonest. He pretends to love good and hate evil, but in reality he indifferently rewards all.
However, there is a way in which Santa Claus can be gracious and just. He will have to find someone to be a willing substitute. Someone “nice” will have to receive an undeserved lump of coal, so that someone “naughty” might receive undeserved blessings. A “nice” substitute will have to be condemned so that “naughty” sinner might be commended.
But friends, our Santa legend and tradition has no such story. Redemption is nowhere found in connection with Jolly O Saint Nicholas. Ultimately, the entire world lauds one who is judicious and gracious, but not just.
However, while our Santa legend has no such redemption story, our Christmas-theology revolves around one such account.
The infinite God promised blessing to those who obeyed his law and curses for those who rebelled. From heaven he saw all the thoughts, words, and deeds of Lucifer, Adam and their followers. With righteous indignation he prepared the eternal condemnation of his enemies. However, before the beginning of the world, he determined to show undeserved grace. Before the first transgressions was committed, the Father covenanted to send his Son to earth. The Son would add human flesh and a human soul. He would live and be slaughtered for the transgressions of many. And why would he do so? The Son would be sent to earth by the Father that those who were “naughty” might be declared “nice.” Then, following this selfless sacrifice, the Son would send his Holy Spirit that all those “declared nice” might be “made nice.” And the result of this marvelous plan of redemption was a holy and loving God who showed grace but remained immutably just as well.
Paul writes of this “nice” transaction to his Roman friends:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
Friends, we are not nice, and we are not “freely” pardoned. May we not look at Christmas and think that God winks at sin. He is not a grandfather or a Santa who treats our rebellion as cute and trivial offenses. No, he abhors our “naughtiness,” and for this reason the “Nice One” was sent to expensively purchase our pardon. We are a people who have received that which we have not earned, and this is only because we are a people redeemed by the blood of the eternal sacrifice — Jesus Christ — the babe in the manger.