I recently tagged along with my BFF who was hired as the photographer for a high-end, two day “Breakfast with Santa” event. The venue hired a different Santa for each day and the contrast between the two of them could not have been more stark.
The first Santa was amazingly charming. Definitely not your typical “mall type” Santa. He was completely invested in his role all the way down to his beard and reindeer – He showed me pictures between visitors. He has an entire “ministry” of sorts, where he hand writes letters to children that have had a hard year. He got choked up recalling the latest one, a child whose parents had gotten divorced and then his grandmother had passed away. His mother sent Santa a video of the boy reading the letter out loud. He had made a difference to this little guy – and to Santa, that was the most important thing. He told me that he wanted the children to know that they are loved and cared for, not forgotten.
The kids loved this Santa – he never asked a single child if they had been good or bad. He just asked how they were doing and what they would like for Christmas. A few of the younger children were terrified – One little girl really wanted to approach Santa, but fear kept getting the best of her. She must have tried for two hours to work up the courage to come and talk to him. She would walk up, wide eyed… get about a foot from his chair, and then decide, “nope!” and run back to her table. This Santa never got weary of her attempts. He encouraged her to come and welcomed her with open arms every time she looked his way.
Eventually, he got a balloon shaped reindeer from the balloon artist and offered it to her – and that was the golden ticket. She was up in his lap and smiling away at the camera without hesitation. She hugged him tight, we all cheered, and I fought back tears. It was incredibly moving just how sweet and patient he was. He was jolly. He was safe. I even ended up in his lap at one point, wishing I had made a bigger deal about Santa to our kids.
The second day, the venue had hired a different Santa but assured us that he was amazing and hired him every year because the members of the club love him so much that they use him on their family Christmas cards. I was wondering to myself how on earth he could top the previous Santa.
To say that he was awful is an understatement. It was clear that he wanted to be anywhere else on planet earth than breakfast with wide eyed children. He kept checking his phone and making calls. That wasn’t even the worst of it. He was mean. He literally made children cry. With every child that climbed into his lap, he didn’t just ask if they had been bad or good, he told them that he had gotten a report that they had not behaved at all this year. Every single child got the same lecture: they had not been obeying their parents the first time they were told and that they had been bickering with their siblings. He sternly reminded them that they only had a few weeks until Christmas but that the deal was they had to be good all year to get gifts.
The parents were irate, and rightfully so. A few parents tried to step in and speak on behalf of their children and sort of playfully argue back, “No. My boys are really good kids, Santa. They are really close to each other and they don’t give me any problems at all.” To all of our horror, Santa offered a counter argument: “Well, that’s not what your elf on the shelf told me! You kids must be mean to your elf because he’s giving me these reports.” If there was ever a moment that I wanted to just body tackle a Santa, this was it. So many children walked away, heads hung low, and I stood there watching, completely helpless.
This Santa did not care about these children, clearly. He was relentless in his accusations that these kids were not good. This Santa demanded perfection. He was not safe. He was not jolly. I certainly did not take a turn sitting in his lap. Everyone just wanted to get away from him as soon as possible.
I’ve been mulling over this since that weekend. These two Santa’s represent to me, so clearly, the Law and the Gospel.
The second Santa, so relentless in his accusations, represents the Law. The Law does not have compassion as it thunders away at us. No matter how we try to get around it’s demands with our arguments of goodness, it answers back, “You know that’s not the deal. It’s perfection or nothing.” The Law is harsh. We come up against it and we either want to buck up to it, or run away. It does not welcome or beckon us to come. We hear the truth of the Law, our sin is exposed, and we walk away with our heads hung low or in angry tears. We cannot meet the demands. It is both horrifying and devastating.
The first Santa, however, represents the gospel. The gospel is well aware of our situation – it demands nothing but gives everything. Jesus doesn’t just wink at our badness and pretend not to see it as if to say, “that’s okay you come anyway”. The measure of the Law is so great, the demand so strict that it can’t just be ignored- it absolutely had to be met. Jesus meets that demand by becoming flesh. He was perfect in our place – he kept the deal for us so that the bad kids can receive the best gifts. The gospel beckons us now to come freely.
This first Santa made me chuckle thinking about how Jesus patiently waits for us to come. Of course we are timid, and unsure that the gospel is true. Could Jesus really be safe? Does he really want me in his lap or is there going to be a bait and switch? Just like the first Santa, Jesus is not keeping a record of your goodness or your badness. He just cares about you and wants you to know that you are not forgotten — You are loved. He welcomes you with open arms every time you look his direction, he welcomes you even when you can’t manage to lift your eyes. His countenance towards you is always jolly. He is safe. There’s enough room in his lap for all ragamuffins.
Photo: My bestie and I with the “good” Santa