The other day I stopped by the local religious supply store to check for books and other materials related to the Advent season.
The first thing I noticed in the store was a figurine set with a Santa Claus kneeling at a manger with the Christ child. I’m certain members of our congregation are familiar with this image. Target, Walmart, and the local drug store probably have seasonal items inspired by this image.
To me the ubiquitous figure of Santa Claus represents the commercialization of Christmas. Santa Claus is everywhere. His picture or life-size figure can be found as far away as store windows in Japan and China. In fact, I’ll bet, if you bought a Santa Claus figure, the attached tag says made in China. Sometimes I wonder what is not made in China.
The Christ child in the manger ought to represent for us the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. Over the years I have struggled with how to salvage the spirit of Christmas from the commercial excesses of this season. I suppose that’s why I get uptight about Santa Claus kneeling at a manger. The image represents for me a blurring of the distinction between the religious spirit of Christmas and the hyper-charged sales promotions dominated by the corpulent Santa Claus figure.
Several hundred years ago our Puritan forefathers became really upset by the non-religious activities attending the Christmas season. As a consequence, they virtually banded the celebration of Christmas altogether. That was throwing the baby out with the water, no pun intended.
I enjoy Christmas trees, listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” and watching “A Christmas Carol.” This time of year could be a pretty dark time, if it were not for Christmas lights on houses, platters of cookies, and Christmas cards in the mailbox. I enjoy many of the non-religious traditions and activities of this season.
We, as Christians, ought to recall again that Advent is something distinct from the so-called commercial Christmas season. Advent is about our spiritual life, specifically our willingness to receive the reign of Christ into our life. Receiving Christ is not a one-time event. Christ comes to us again and again in Word and Sacraments. He comes to us encouraging a renewal of our spirit and commitment at Christmas.