Incarnation, God, Elf on the Shelf and Santa

I think at the end of the day one of the privileges of (postmodern) parenthood is being able to select traditions.  No doubt that can bring about greater family conflict, but I love the invitation to choose traditions that are cohesive with values and that have a consistent narrative for our families.   Each family has to do it there way, has to choose their own fights with in-laws and the like, has their own childhood memories, spiritual practices and values to pull from, and each family is going to emphasize differently etc.  But here are some of my thoughts on some Christmas traditions.

God's love is a free gift.
You cannot screw up enough for God to stop loving you and investing in you.
God's love is a free gift.

It is not about your behavior or deeds.
God's love is a free gift.
Her love is offered simply because what she offers is love.
God's love is a free gift.

Funny enough though this post is essentially about theology and Christmas.  I figured something out last week while visiting with a friend (Adele) and realized that my discomfort with a much of the Santa stuff and Elf on the Shelf as practiced by many, and certainly not all, is the it disregards the celebration of Christmas in a deep fundamental way:  God's Love is a free gift and the Christ's presence here on here was a free gift. You do not earn it.

We spend a lot of energy around Christmas trying to get our children to behave perfectly. We tell them that we and others like Santa and elves are watching them so that they can "earn" their Christmas presents.

from pintrest and

Thus Christmas presents become a prize for good behavior (and seriously parents would you really NOT give your kid the presents you bought them??).  This idea of getting gifts for good behavior is counter the holiday itself.  I celebrate Christmas because it is a celebration of the gift of the incarnation of God in human form. I celebrate the profound reality of God being all mixed up in the material world.  Jesus wasn't born because people weren't screwed up. Jesus was born, God came with us, even though (and perhaps because we are) screwed up!  That shit is awesome!

But our narrative around Christmas in many circles are contrary to this idea of free gift.  Just listen to some of our Christmas lyrics, we have all sung lines like this from a popular Christmas Carol, "He [Santa] knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you are awake, he knows if you are a bad or Good so be good for Goodness sake."
santa and elf on the shelf from pintrest

Then there is a newly popular Elf on the Shelf  Wikipedia notes this, "[the] elf's main priority around the family's household is to keep watch over the children's behavior during the day and return to the North Pole overnight to report their behavior to Santa Claus, detailing any acts of obedience or misdeeds performed by a child during that particular day, returning home by the following morning."

Yikes.  That sounds downright terrifying.  Because my view of God is NOT one that is keeping a tally of our mistakes and condemning us for them, but rather God is one who is constantly reaching out to us and offering us and invitation to love.  That is why God became incarnate!  And this is why I am deeply uncomfortable with all of tallying up behavior around Christmas presents.

So alas, we will still celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas.  We will put shoes outside of our doors and on Christmas morning we will have stockings again from St. Nicholas.  But whether our kids are "good" or "bad" they get some gifts.  (now a whole other topic is consumerism, privilege, poverty and holidays etc but that is for another post.)  Whether we are good or bad, what I believe to be the truth of the incarnation is offered to me, To you, freely and without shame.


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