The Santa Claus Gospel
The message of Santa Claus is essentially this: if you are good you shall be rewarded, if you are not you won't, you will be punished. Therefore, what you need to do is to work hard at being good to recieve your reward, it is all up to you.The gifts that he gives need to be earned.
The well known Christmas song Santa Claus is Coming to Town shows us this. The first verse tells us:
You better watch out,In other words, "you'd better get your act together and be good because Santa Claus is coming." The next verse tells us why it is so important that we do this:
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He's making a list,You need to be good because Santa is making a list of who's been good and who's been bad, who's been naughty and who's been nice. So, you'd better make sure you end up in the right list. It's all up to us and our hard work. This is why the third verse exhorts us:
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He knows if you've been bad or good,"Be good", this is essentially the 'gospel' of Santa Claus. However, this is not good news at all. None of us can be good, we all come to Christmas as sinners. All of us "have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and even the good things that we do are like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). We are incapable of being "good for goodness sake!" The gospel of Santa Claus is bad news for us, it does not give us any hope.
So be good for goodness sake!
What type of people do we become if we hold to the Santa Claus gospel? It can create two types of people. On the one hand it can produce people who think that by their own efforts they are good enough. This leads to pride, arroagance and looking down on others. On the other hand, it can produce utter despair, when people recognise the truth that they're not good enough. They cannot "be good for goodness sake", therefore there is no hope held out for them in the Santa Claus gospel.
If we let the Santa Claus gospel shape our Christmas it does not lead to a very merry Christmas. However, this is not the case with Jesus.
The Jesus Christ Gospel
The message of the Bible is very different to what Santa Claus has to offer. It gives great hope to those who know that they can never be good enough. The God of the Bible is one who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). That is, He declares sinful men and women, who have fallen short of His glory and deserve His punishment, to be in right standing before Him. In the words of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, He declares those who are naughty to be nice. He no longer counts their sins against them (Romans 4:7-8), and thus they can look forward to a future, not of punishment, but of enjoying the glorious blessing of being in His prescence for all eternity in a completely renewed world. This is good news!
Sinful men and women are declared to be in right standing before God, not on the basis if how hard they've tried to be good, but by the grace of God alone, shown at the cross of Christ. Jesus was "put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be recieved by faith." (Romans 3:25). That is, He is a sacrifice that turns aside God's wrath, His just anger at sin. At the cross Jesus bore the just punishment of God in the place of sinners. The just anger of God fell on Jesus instead of those who've sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), so that all who trust Him would never face that punishment, but instead know that great blessing of being counted as righteous in God's sight, no longer having their sin standing against them (Romans 4:6-8).
This is the complete opposite of the Santa Claus gospel. The Santa Claus gospel tells us that we need to work in order to earn our 'gift' (which no longer makes it a gift - Romans 4:4). However, the message of the Bible is that we recieve this gift of righteousness from God simply by trusting Him who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). This means it is truly a gift, it is not something we must earn. Indeed, we cannot earn it, we've already seen that we can never be good enough to earn God's favour, we've already trampled His glory into the dirt by our rejecting of His good rule over us, and all we've earnt is death (Romans 6:23). But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23).
This produces a very different type of people than the Santa Claus gospel does. If we hold to the good news of Jesus it shapes us to be a humble people. We no longer have any grounds for boasting, it is excluded (Romans 3:27). We are all alike on a level playing field. All of us our guilty and deserve death for our rebellion. All are declared to be in right standing with God, not on the basis of our works, but on the basis of Christ's work on our behalf. It is all of grace. The gospel also produces a people who are joyful and confident, not despairing. We can have great confidence in the face of the future, because we have been justified, and this depends on God's work not ours. Because it is all of His work in Christ Jesus, He shall never forsake us (Romans 8:31-39), nothing can seperate us from the love He has shown us in Christ if we are His. We instead have the joyful and sure hope of glory. This is good news.
So, which gospel is going to shape your Christmas? Only one of them is truly a gospel, because only one of them truly gives us good news. Only one of them, if we let it shape our Christmas, will give us a truly merry Christmas.