Katrina & The Waifs
B U Right Back
Little Children Come
Eat Your Greens
Van Diemen's Land
Bring Me To Life
2009 12 31
It's Thor's Day and almost the end of another calendar year. As well as moving into MX, tonight we'll say goodbye to the 'Tenth' month and greet January, named after the Roman god of the doorway, Janus, who looks both forward and back.
People will be looking forward to the next 12 months and making resolutions about what they want to change about themselves. There'll also be some reflection on what's just gone, personally and also collectively, encouraged by the many retrospective TV and radio programmes reviewing the events of 2009.
Prominent among the other political and celebrity stories will undoubtedly be the death of Michael Jackson on June 25th, a couple of months shy of his 51st birthday. His posthumously released single 'This is It' had Jackson sing 'I'm the light of the world, I feel grand' and courted controversy by omitting writing credits for Paul Anka. The media and commercial activity around his funeral and aborted tour seemed to lack dignity as those with a financial interest sought to capitalise on the publicity.
For many though, memories of Michael Jackson will be of his halcyon days - either the period around 'Thriller' and 'Bad' or perhaps earlier when he was part of The Jackson 5. Certainly at this time of year when every TV ad break, music programme and shop seems to stream non-stop Christmas classics you're sometimes listening to him without noticing.
A few days ago I found myself noting the words of 'Santa Claus is Comin' to Town'. The cheery, upbeat and positive vocal and production were rather in contrast to the sentiment of the lyric.
This all sounds a little sinister and scary to me. The message is clear - you're being watched. Do as you're told and go to sleep. A record is being kept of your wrongs. Being emotional or upset isn't allowed, bottle it or miss out. The Santa Claus in this song is something of an ogre, a threat hanging over every child; a threat conveniently deployed by stressed parents in the holiday season. Of course this was the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover had been President of the USA until the previous year and they'd also had Prohibition. Another Hoover was busy inventing the FBI and a couple of years later Jesse Owens would take four golds in front of Hitler at the Berlin Olympics. Ironically Owens would've experienced greater discrimination back home in Alabama than in Germany.
The contemporary figure of Santa Claus is himself a peculiar amalgam of European and Asian myth fused with 19th and 20th century American culture. Odin, Old Father Time, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus; he apocryphally exchanged his green robes for red to suit Coca Cola's advertising campaigns around the time this song was written. In fact the red robes were introduced quite a lot earlier.
We have then this immortal, white-bearded, benevolent (for the most part) old gentleman who lives at the top of the world in white fluffy snow and is capable of the miraculous. The temptation to fuse that with a similar image of God - bearded, dwelling on a white fluffy cloud - is understandable. Christmas being a celebration of God's gift of Jesus, overlapping with this similar looking chap bringing everyone gifts doesn't help matters. It may even be partly responsible for pulling the poor Magi away from their own feast of Epiphany and blending them into Yuletide consumerism.
A bit of make believe is surely harmless and isn't Mr Claus mainly benign? Beyond physical appearance though I fear we may project the character and nature of Santa onto our understanding of God. If questioned, I'd guess many people would describe God's attitudes and behaviour as consistent with the words of the song. Their belief is that He's constantly watching, recording wrongs and deciding whether to reward them or not based on how good they've been. Oh and you'd better watch out! Bearded man with big stick - or should that be St Nicolas' bishop's staff?!
The truth of this season is rather opposite to these misconceptions. Christmas is the celebration of events which hailed 'Goodwill to all men' not the scales of judgement [Jn 3:17]. Rather than earning anything God gives to us it is grace (unmerited favour) which motivates Him. The gift of His son was to all people, on whom his favour rests. [Lu 2:8-15]
He is more concerned with blotting out transgressions [Is 44:22] and casting them into the sea of forgetfulness [Micah 7:19] than tallying them up at the end of each year. Instead of rewarding only good deeds he causes the sun to shine on the evil and the good and sweet rains to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous [Matt 5:45]. He is beyond comprehension [Romans 11:33] and asks us not to form a perception of Him based of what we know in this world [Deut 4].
He is not some cantankerous old chap of whom we need be wary and keep on the right side, rather the Ancient of Days on whom no eye can rest such is His Glory [Ex 33:20]. More than just the turn of year and the beginning of a new score card, the real Christmas promises new life and new birth [2 Cor 5:17]. He doesn't command that we not cry. He is slow to anger [Joel 2:13] and keeps our tears [Ps 56:8]; one day he will dry them Himself [Rev 21:4].
It doesn't have to be at this time of year that we celebrate the birth of Jesus. No-one knows the date and in any case the calendar has changed a bit since then. But what better time and opportunity to replace the concept of consumption and retribution as seen in Santa Claus with the truth of God's grace and favour, gifted to us in the person of His son?
Maybe at the turn of this year we would resolve to share in the true character and nature of God, forgetting and forgiving the past and behaving towards others not as they deserve but as we would ideally care to be treated ourselves [Matt 7:12].
© cag 2009