Kids, Santa, Jesus, and Why We Pray


Something I've prayed this week:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent from The Book of Common Prayer)

Several times during the past week, I've driven past a church near our house which has a sign that says, Do your kids know Jesus like they know Santa?

Though I can't say for sure, my hunch is that the author of the sign wants parents to be able to say yes to the question, and if that hunch is right, I'm certain the words were posted with good motivations. The church wants parents to help their children know that Christmas is more about Jesus than it is about Santa.

But it got me thinking and I'd like to put the question a different way:Parents, do you know Jesus like you know Santa? I wonder how many times an honest answer would be yes, and I'm convinced a yes response to that question is common but tragic.

Unless I have been badly informed, "knowledge" of Santa is limited to things along these lines:

  • Stories and poems about him in books, videos, etc. These are inescapable. We seemingly can't go anywhere or look at anything without seeing the big fella in red. My original approach as a parent regarding him was that I'd try to ignore him and hope my kids never noticed him. It didn't work. It's more likely that they could go through life without noticing me than without noticing him.
  • Other people's claims to have seen him or interacted with him ("You serious, Clark?") I can remember leaving Christmas Eve services at church as a kid and on the ride home hearing Paul Harvey give a news report on the radio about where in the world's sky that the sleigh had been spotted. This wasn't just any voice relating this news. It was Paul Harvey. He was to be trusted at least as much as the preacher.
  • The evidence- especially the stuff he gives us Cookies disappeared. Every tiny sound after dark on the 24th was surely what hooves on the roof would sound like. And then, of course, there was the stuff he left behind- the gifts to me attributed to him. Indisputable.

So I wonder how many of us may have been badly formed and actually, we do know Jesus like we know Santa, with our "knowledge" of Jesus being limited to things along these lines:

  • Stories and poems about him in books, videos, etc. To some degree, these too are inescapable. If anyone ever bothers to wonder about the origin of terms like Good Samaritan or hypocrite, or things like why we number our years the way we do, or any of the abundance of crosses we see all around us (I saw one today on the back of a truck paired with the silhouette of a naked woman), they will trace them to ancient stories about or told by Jesus. But we only largely only know those things to the degree we choose to investigate them. Otherwise, it's more likely that we could go through December without noticing Jesus than without noticing Santa.
  • Other people's claims to have seen him or interacted with him All kinds of people claim to have had all kinds of experiences with this poor man who was born in a small village two millennia ago. Some of these people are as trustworthy as Paul Harvey. Some others of them are preachers, so one would expect them to lay claim to these kinds of things. (That isn't a knock on preachers- there was a time in our culture when they were implicitly regarded as trustworthy- it's a cultural fact that this is no longer the case.) Many others of them are the ordinary kind of people you and I interact with every day.
  • The evidence- especially the stuff he gives us Perhaps someone is able to deal with stress better than they were before being a Christian. Or, a few even have those fortunate experiences of a loved one having a medically inexplicable recovery. Others find meaning and purpose for their lives. Many find a deeply needed sense of forgiveness. All kinds of gifts come our way which get attributed to him.

But here's the point: None of the things listed above are the same as knowing a person. If it is not possible to know Jesus in a completely different way than kids know Santa, I am wasting my time in my attempts to live prayerfully this year, because in the end this isn't about blog posts, or habits, or even prayer itself- it's about following up (in a real and gut-level honest way) on the claim that so many have made throughout these last 2,000 years: We can know him.

[This is the 6th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully.]