Santa Karma. Three Teachings from Saint Nick

Although I love listening to and engaging in deep, ethical, theological and sociological conversations, there are some things I grasp a few paces down the path, so to speak, than others. Call me slow. That being said, I had a Santa Clause epiphany today! Everyone doesn’t grasp the same things at the same moment. Today, I caught up a bit!

So, what spurred this sudden awakening? A car commercial I saw on the Internet ignited today’s realization. A guy really wants a fancy, new car so he caters to Santa by sewing his red suit, carrying his sack of toys and generally caring for the over-sized elf. First off, this is totally wrong because Santa is a tiny guy! Just listen to the song for crying out loud! (T’was the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore) But that wasn’t my revelation. Watching the commercial, I began to think about the messages both the advertising and the little guy in the red suit send!

I, along with my brothers, grew up believing in Santa. I had very good parents who loved us and wanted the best for us. For our enjoyment, and probably theirs, we were raised with the concept that a petite elf would fly through the sky once a year in a mini-sleigh pulled by tiny reindeer delivering presents to little boys and girls who were nice and coal for those who were naughty. I never asked what the standard for naughty was, never really thought about it actually. I just simply wanted gifts! We were so deeply steeped in this tradition that I remember believing to hear, one particular Christmas Eve, reindeer hooves on the roof of our house!

Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve been reflecting on since I saw the commercial.

One. I’m good, you’re good, heck, we’re all good! The danger with the Santa theme is that there really isn’t a standard for “good”. Although there are kids who do not get gifts (I now know a few but it’s not because they’re naughty), I never knew anyone who didn’t get presents. Even the school bully, Bradley, got gifts. What’s with that? There’s a problem here that I still see manifest in many adults. If you ask the question, “Why would God allow you to enter heaven?” do you know what the number one answer is? It’s, “Because I’m good.” Now, I’m not going to cast Santa as the scapegoat, but the pattern society sets up for our “goodness” isn’t a standard defined by anything objective. Rather, it’s arbitrary, individualistic and fluctuating. This certainly is how the whole “naughty and nice” scenario surrounding Saint Nick works. In fact, I bet there are some people you know who would answer the question the same way and you’d think, “What ultra-ridiculously-low standard are they using?” I think this is something for all of us to consider. How would you answer the question? What standard for “good” are you using?

Two. You always get what you deserve. If you’re nice, you get nice things. If you’re naughty, well, not so much, right? That’s the essence of karma, at least the Western idea of karma. Karma is a lot more complicated than that. The ideology existed before Buddha came on the scene and the Eastern philosophy of karma has to do with our intentions and thoughts. Actually, if you do enough study, you’ll find several definitions and nuances of what karma is or means and it gets a bit crazy, seems like no one can agree. I digress. What I’ve experienced in America, regarding karma is this – do bad things, get bad things. Do good things, get good things. It’s a punishment/reward-based system. And this is the very essence of “Santa karma”. If we’re “good” – as arbitrary as that may be – we get good things. If we’re naughty, well, you get the idea.

This is Winston, one of our West Highland Terriers. Occasionally we do strange things with them for photographs. This is his "Angry Elf" outfit. Merry Christmas!

I remember one Christmas where my Mom and Dad put coal in our stockings – the Santa punishment for naughty kids. Each of my brothers reacted differently. One just ignored it. Another took it to heart. I think my parents enjoyed the varied reactions. Did we deserve the coal? I bet some days we did. Were we naughty? Sometimes. But those dark lumps in our chimney-hung socks paled in comparison to the stack of presents we received that night. If that wasn’t a mixed signal, I’m not sure what is.

Three. You’ll have make up time. I do recall trying very hard at times in the weeks leading up to Christmas to be very, extra special good. Vacuum the floor. Clean up my room. Do my chores, the whole enchilada. And, year after year, this tactic seemed to work, at least from my perspective. But what it instilled in others and apparently me was that we can live like hell most of our days and make up the difference through our own efforts after. We see this glaringly clear in the revelry of Mardi Gras prior to the Lenten season. I’ve talked to people who have expressed this very “plan” for their lives. They intend to live however they want, casting off all restraints and just before they die they’ll make right with God. Oh, if that isn’t misguided! Whether you believe in God or not that’s some crazy, mixed up thinking for more reasons than I have time for here.

The primary issue with these three “teachings” is that they don’t line up with what the Bible teaches.

One. No one is good. We all start on the same plane. Romans 3:23 reads this way. “No one is righteous, not one.” Even Jesus, the epicenter of Christianity, challenges a man when he calls Jesus, “good”. “No one is good but God”, Jesus replies. The standard for “good” has to be something outside of ourselves. If it isn’t then what makes one person the standard and another not? That’s a pretty dangerous place to bank your life on. Nope. The Bible, from cover to cover says that humanity is not good, that it’s in need of a Savior who can go beyond making bad people good or good people great to the miraculous length of making dead people alive! Now that’s a pretty cool present.

Two. You get what you deserve...unless. Many people have an image of God as this other world deity that’s just wanting to zap people when they screw up. The fact of the matter is God doesn’t enjoy it went people reap bad things. One of Jesus’ earliest followers, Peter, wrote,

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
— 2 Peter 3:9

And again, in Hebrew Scripture song lyrics, it says, 

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
— Psalms 103:8-14

Now, it’s absolutely true that we reap what we sow. Jesus said it! We can’t get away with living like the devil and expect to reap great rewards. Yes, for a time we may indulge in personal gain but in the end the principle still applies, sow a bean seed, reap a bean. What the Scripture does say is that if a person acknowledges their waywardness and repents, they can be forgiven. There must be a change of heart! Karma isn’t like that. Once a deed is done it’s indelibly inked on the universe’s tally sheet for payback – good for good, bad for bad. Compared to what God offered through Jesus, do you really want to embrace karma?

Three. You can’t make it up. Here, again, is another misunderstanding that has carried through even to certain Christian denominations. Mess up and you can work it off, pray it off, pay it off. No, no you can’t! If no one is righteous and the standard is a perfect God, how do you pay that off? You can’t. This seems hopeless, but the beauty, the real gift is that God has made the payment for us. He’s given us a perfect gift through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It’s a gift we don’t deserve and haven’t earned. It’s God’s provision of grace to bring us to a place where He designed us to live. Can God restore and change a life moments before death? Absolutely! With the King of the Universe this is possible and happens frequently and it’s a beautiful thing but it’s not His ideal or to our great benefit.

So, first, I apologize for my slow grasp of the obvious. Second, I pray that you would seriously consider these three “teachings” from Santa. They’re important because they permeate society – they’re not just a “Santa thing”. And, if you spend time contemplating and seeking the way of life God desires for you, your life will be more productive and less uncertain. Blessings to you this Advent Season! May the peace of God rule in your heart. Ditch the karma, hold onto the King!