The Rev. Peter A. Luckey, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:
First, consider who God is to you
Once I gave my Dad coal for Christmas. Couldn’t wait to see the expression on his face, while he tore through the wrapping paper and peered into a box of cold black anthracite.
I meant it as a joke. There was a lot of kidding in our family, especially at Christmas time.
Dad was forever sounding The Threat: If you are bad, Santa will bring you coal.
I thought, “I’ll beat Santa to it.”
We, my brothers and I, never took the threats seriously, nor did the dire predictions ever come to pass.
On Christmas morning, Dad opened that lifeless pile of carbon. And we laughed.
Unfortunately, the notion of a naughty or nice Santa (or God) is very real for many people. How many people grow up thinking there exists a deity who bestows or withholds presents based upon how they have behaved in the past year?
How many children grow into adults unable to shake the feeling that they have not “measured up”?
The important question here is not whether God and Santa are in cahoots but rather who is God for you? Is God essentially one of judgment or mercy?
The scriptures teach us, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8).
This is what Christians celebrate this time of year; the receiving of this gift of a wondrous love come down to earth. The news came to a lowly Shepherd 2,000 years ago, and the world has never been the same.
God has a heart only for love. Darkness the world has plenty of. God would never think of giving it to us wrapped in a box.
— Send email to Peter Luckey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Matt Sturtevant, First Baptist Church of Lawrence, 1330 Kasold Drive:
God doesn’t condemn with lists
Ah, the nice and naughty list. What a wonderful tool for parents this time of year! A great deal of sibling squabbles, unfinished homework and general disobedience has been curbed by the promise (or threat!) of that ever-present list.
But I wouldn’t say that Santa’s list and God’s are the same. For many of us, Christmas is the ultimate list-keeping venture. For God, keeping lists is a foreign concept. Look in the third chapter of the book of John from the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Held up at every football game and memorized by Sunday school children for generations, John 3:16 is often used to share the story of God’s love through Jesus. But, it has also been used by some folks to keep a “nice and naughty list,” clarifying what belief must look like and who does it right and who does it wrong. But look at the next verse, John 3:17: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Spending time condemning people — putting them on a “naughty” list — is not what God is about. A graceless perfectionism that demands perfect belief or perfect action is the antithesis of what God seems to want for the world. God is not about keeping score or keeping lists. Of course, this Christmas, we could all do a little more to get on Santa’s nice list. But above all, we should remember the words of Philip Yancey: “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”
— Send email to Matt Sturtevant at email@example.com.