The way we characterize Santa Claus with our children reflects our image of God. The Santa we create for our children mirrors how we perceive God.
This was manifest for me in two recent exchanges with my regular grocery cashier. In the first, she joked about the toughness of my job as a local pastor. “You’ve got a tough boss to please,” she kidded me. A few days later we were talking about her three-year-old’s behavior. “She’s behaving better because she’s afraid Santa won’t bring her anything. I think I freaked her out last night, though. I told her the elf-on-the-shelf I put over her bed was telling Santa all the bad things she’s done.” Indeed, in a photo the mother shared of her daughter’s rigid body and suspicious eyes posing beside Santa’s spying Elf looked to me like a child frightened of an invisible deity.
Leaving with my carrots, grapes, and potatoes I thought about the presentation of Santa Claus as the arbiter of childhood justice. Many adults create an image of Santa of a magical being focused on judging naughty or nice. They use him as a threat to get compliance from children. “You better behave or Santa won’t bring you anything!” This image is much like the God created by rigid, rule-bound versions of Christianity.
Like the old man with a naughty and nice list, the harsh and severe God of fundamentalist Christianity is a demanding task master. God’s love like Santa’s toys are earned by following regulations at the expense of our personality and humanity. The path to Christmas and God’s embrace is narrow with many pitfalls. Love the wrong person, go to Hell. Perceive God differently than fundamentalists, languish for eternity. Let your child nature get the better of you, lose a gift.
But not all St. Nicks are about lists. In some families, Santa is an opportunity to give with as much abandon as budgets and good sense allow. Santa gives gifts because it is in Santa’s nature to do so. Santa becomes a teacher of how to give generously. Adults give children opportunities to pick out toys to donate to Toys for Tots and to choose the color of socks to give to the local homeless shelter. This Santa is about extravagant love.
The Santa of generosity and giving reflects a very different understanding of God. God loves flamboyantly, extends undeserved grace, and lures us to live in a community of love and justice, becoming our true selves, because that is the nature of God. God desires us to be generous, loving, and compassionate with all people, especially those rejected by society. Christmas marks the beginning of the story of the Bethlehem babe who will grow up to expand circles, stand with those on society’s margins, and love as God dreams we can all love.
We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. –Karl Barth
National slightly less than 50%
Protests across cities
Fringe Trump supporters overtly threatening
We are a deeply divided people
Our hope that we would somehow magically come back together after Tuesday was naive.
Result of election of one who was openly
Blamed immigrants and Muslims
Stories from circle re fear
Text: ”Half of this country just threw my life under the bus”
Election served as a trigger for sexual assault victims
Hateful “go home” notes left in people’s work mailboxes
Synagogues hiring security
Screamed at on way to work: “Trump! N****r!”
I spent much of Wednesday counseling, listening
Others celebrate shock to polarized system
Needs have been ignored
Voting for him doesn’t mean you did so because racist
Some of you voted for him despite these things
View the world through the Bible, faith, love
love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength…The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 CEB
As followers of Jesus we are obliged to stand with those the powerful have attacked.
I sat down to write the scripture email late Wednesday. I came up with something not quite reflection.
I share some of that with you now:
“How long, O Lord?” asks Isaiah. “How long, O Lord?” must I fruitlessly prophesy to your people.
And God tells him that he must prophesy until the cities lay in ruins and the land lay devastated.
And, still, Isaiah goes where God sends him.
This is a discouraging story.
The descriptions of the people turning away from living in accordance with God’s requirements,
their obstinate refusal to listen to the prophet warning of the pitfalls of their chosen path,
and, still the voice of Isaiah calling to them, is reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie. Love of neighbor be damned!
I have seen some horrible things as an educator and as a pastor.
I’ve been privy to some of the worst of what humanity has to offer.
I’ve often felt like following God’s requirements “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB) is futile.
Too often I’ve felt beaten down by shortsighted bureaucrats or politicians more concerned with bombing and killing others than feeding our own children!
My words of “you are God’s beloved” seem too little when the church — THE CHURCH! — spews hatred and rejects children of God.
In the face of an incoming president who has made fun of a disabled reporter, bragged about sexual assault, who has a racist history,
and who blames and threatens to discriminate against all Muslims — our sibling Abrahamic religion — all while claiming the Christian faith, I am discouraged.
Does our faith even matter? On the morning following the election I was counseling multiple people who are terrified that their rights are at stake now.
One young woman said to me, “I am scared for my personal safety!”
An individual one step removed from me was the victim of someone yelling, “Trump! N****r!” as he journeyed to work.
I imagine Isaiah saw some of the same underbelly of humanity happening all around him.
God does not seek prophets when humanity is loving neighbor and caring for the least of these (Matthew 25:44-45).
God saw the state of the world all too clearly in the time around King Uzziah’s death, in Isaiah’s time.
Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.” Isaiah 6:8 CEB
Isaiah volunteered to take God’s message to the people!
His response reminded me of a little girl who, as Hitler was spreading through Europe, wrote in her diary:
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank).
Just as Isaiah responded to God’s call to a seemingly fruitless task, we must not give up on God’s call to be the realm of God in the world.
If we are to call ourselves Christians, we must stand on the margins of society as Jesus did.
We must strive to manifest the extravagant love of Christ.
We must protect the vulnerable even when others empower hatred.
[Isaiah] said, “How long, Lord?” And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.” (Isaiah 6:11 CEB)
And I suppose there is the Good News:
Even when we don’t deserve it, even when the only thing that remains is a holy seed, God does not give up.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. compared Donald Trump to King David in March of this year. Explaining his endorsement Falwell said,
“God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer.” (1)
Given the nature of political leadership, the argument that God uses flawed human beings for good, for God’s purposes is a legitimate topic. Did God use the extremely imperfect David for good? In our own time is God using another imperfect man, Donald Trump, for good?
Despite his reputation over the millennia as a great king, David was a human being. He was a sinner who did terrible things. From our twenty-first century vantage point he was despicable.
David lusted after Bathsheba who was bathing on a nearby roof, as was ancient custom. And, though, lust in and of itself can be a normal human response, like other men (and women) he did not have to act upon that physical urge.
One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.
So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (2 Samuel 11:2, 4a CEB)
You might remember, this was no innocent hook up between consenting adults. This was a king who at best abused his wealth and power to have sex with a married woman or at worst raped her. Both interpretations can be legitimately argued.
David wasn’t done, however, with his despicable abuse of power and wealth. He covered up his actions by having Bathsheba’s husband killed! David used his power to satisfy his sexual urges at the expense of a woman and then abused his power as commander of the army to assure the husband died in battle.
God was certainly angry with David. God took his wives and gave them to others. God allowed the child born to Bathsheba to die. David was publicly humiliated as God took his patriarchal privilege away in a way that left him open for ridicule. God said,
“You did what you did secretly, but I will do what I am doing before all Israel in the light of day.” (2 Samuel 12:12 CEB)
What was David’s response when he was called out?
“I’ve sinned against the LORD!” David said to Nathan. (2 Samuel 12:13a CEB)
A contrite David humbled himself before God. And God forgave and offered grace to David, to one who admitted his sin, humbled himself, and showed contrition. But God did not take away the consequences of David’s sin.
Because David admitted his sins and was contrite and received God’s grace, he became a great king. Though God would still love David whether he was contrite or not, it was his humble response and admission of his sin that allowed the God-David relationship to move forward.
Ultimately David will restore Jerusalem to the Israelites. Yes, God does use flawed human beings for good, for God’s purposes.
In our time we have Donald Trump, a financial king who would like to become the leader of his people.
Like David, Donald has a history of allowing his appetite for power and sexuality lead him astray. He was caught on tape belittling women, discussing sexual assault because, he bragged,
“…when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” (2)
What was Donald’s response when he was called out?
As accusations (and corroboration) from numerous women have surfaced about his abuse of power to sexually assault them, he has not confessed in anything near contrition. Instead, he has doubled down calling them liars. He has pointed his finger at others who have misbehaved as a five-year-old might: “Todd did it first!”
So, no. Donald Trump is not like King David.
Yes, David was an extremely flawed human being who went on to become a great leader. The difference, however, was that David admitted and confessed his sins when called out. David showed immediate contrition! He didn’t call Bathsheba names or point his finger at other leaders.
Make the bed.
“Should I change the sheets today?”
No time. Tomorrow.
Do the dishes.
Water the grass.
Deal with dog.
Eat. Don’t dawdle.
Ding. Ding. Reply to texts.
Teeth. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.
“I’ve gotta start a load of clothes before I go!”
In the midst of my morning routine I found sabbath. As the laundry detergent slowly and intently flowed into the cup, I took a breath. My body relaxed and my blood flowed in rhythm to the steady, unhurried liquid as it flowed from bottle to tap to measuring cup.
In and out. Sigh. I am here in this now.
That’s when I knew who I am. That’s the moment when I felt the divine presence in my morning routine.
I tend to favor less developed parks. Trails that are narrowier, more treacherous, and less groomed challenge my physiology and spirit. Rocks or moss (sometimes both) are my preferred benches. The Oregon Parks Department, however, has a knack for placing benches within oil paintings.
Sometimes, I find myself along a well-groomed, safer trail. When I come across a bench in the divine art gallery, I sit upon that bench. As I admire the painting before me I soon realize the divine artist has also been busy to my left, my right, and behind me.
Tuning in to the chatter of squirrels, the rushing water, and the breath that tousles branches stretching to the sky, I notice my own brushstrokes. I am part of this divinely created masterpiece!
Like the splendor of the falls, the mud in my boots, and the early budding trees, my allure and beauty are created in the artist’s own image.
I wish I knew. I want certainty.
I need to know. Yes, I need to know.
How can I prepare if I don’t know?
“Show me the way!”
I shout at God.
“Tell me now! I must know. Now!”
If I just listen more closely.
Maybe, if I quiet myself.
This path? That path? Certainly, not the other path?
Today, I know where my foot should fall.
Here. Yes, here. I’m sure it’s here. Positively.
Yes. Yes. Yes. This is it.
Or is it?
I don’t want to be hurt.
I don’t want to make a mistake.
I really do want to do what God wants.
But what if this path is too rocky?
What if that one disappears among the muck?
What if I’ve got it wrong. It’s not like the signs are in neon.
Why turn either way? Why not stay right here?
I love it here.
Really, mother. I love it here.
I wish I knew.
Is there a path for me at all? Do I matter?
What if this path –the one I already know — is ordained for me?
Is the sandy path down near the beach my path?
Maybe the rocky one that leads to the clouds is mine?
Perhaps this linoleum trail I’ve been on is mine?
Mine. Mine. Mine.
I need to know my path.
How can I prepare if I don’t know?
I have to pack after all.
Do I fill the Samsonite with shorts & tanks or jeans & hoods?
I mentally torture myself trying to determine the path.
This one? That one? Another one?
“Show me the way!”
I shout at God.
“Tell me now! I must know. Now!”
But what if the divine doesn’t work that way?
What if I have choices?
What if I can feel the calf-burn of moving up sandy dunes if I want?
What if the pinch of tiny rocks in my mountain hikers is my choice?
What if the drizzly fog freezing on the smooth rocks is my preference?
What if any one of these paths is mine?
What if any combination of many paths are mine?
Perhaps, just perhaps the spirit is revealed upon any trail,
any trail upon which I come alive!
Maybe any one of these paths and more are ordained for me if I choose.
I think maybe, just maybe.
Maybe that is what it means to be created in the image of God: to have choices before me and to make whatever path I traverse a place where I bring myself, wholeheartedly, and brimming with love to share.