For the last 85 years, our culture’s holiday playlist has contained “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”. For the last 50 Christmases, we, as a society, been delighted by the Rankin/Bass stop-motion special inspired by the song’s lyrics and have come to love its additions; the irritations of Burgermeister Meisterburger, the commotion in Sombertown and the transformation of the Winter Warlock have become part of our seasonal heritage. We all can sing along – “He’s making a list, checking it twice; gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake; he knows if you’ve been bad or good – so be good, for goodness sake.”
For the last few generations, we all have been told that Santa has made a list of who’s been “naughty” and who’s been “nice” (and untold numbers of parents have utilized the knowledge of this list to keep their children in line during the month of December). As Christmas approaches, we have had a musical reminder that Kris Kringle knows whether we’ve been good or bad and, by extension, he will bring gifts for the good boys and girls and coal for the bad. So, we do all we can to be good so that our names appear on the “nice” list.
For whatever reason – the close connection between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of Santa Claus or the compiling of lists of good and bad behavior or a benevolent mythical figure giving gifts – people are inclined to think of Father Christmas and God the Father in similar terms. Surely, we suppose, that the Almighty watches over us during our waking hours as well as through our slumber. Certainly, we expect, He keeps a list of names with all that we’ve done right and done wrong. It is likely, we surmise, that He blesses us for our goodness and supplies rocks to those who are bad. But God is not like Santa.
There is no difference … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:22-24
God is making a list, and maybe He is checking it twice. He knows all are naughty and none are nice. He sees you when you are sleeping, and He knows when you’re awake. He knows that you’re not good but bad…but He gives us His greatest gift anyway. God does not keep us in line by threatening to remove His favor; He grants us His favor (grace) because we cannot stay in line. God loves us so much that He gave us the only gift that would satisfy our every longing – His presence among us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus didn’t come to earth because we were good, but because He is good. So good that He lists all those who trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior on His “nice” list, not because of what we’ve done, but because of what He’s done for us by sending us the gift of Christ.
All my life I have been encouraged to be a good boy (or a good man). Growing up, I must have heard the command to “be good” a thousand times, whether it was just before visiting a friend’s house or the local library. After I was particularly incorrigible as a child, I was warned that I might be dropped off at the “bad boy store” by my frustrated mother – in hindsight, I recognize the absurdity of the reality of this establishment, but at the time the notion that I could be chattel for this nefarious business worked well in keeping me on the straight and narrow. However, I was not always a good boy.
As I grew up into manhood, I have tried to be a good man. I think I have succeeded, to a greater of lesser degree. However, “the bad man store” may have a new item for sale. In my defense, the event I am about to describe occurred during the Patriots game on Sunday. As I was watching the game (the outcome of which at the time was still in question), trouble came to our house. As she was making sure our youngest was ready for bed, my wife hit her head – hard – on the upper bunk of the boys’ bed. While there was no blood, there was a bump. It least that is what I was told. I had little compassion and provided no care. I was not a good husband or a good father. I was wrong, and I sincerely apologize to my wife for my lapse in judgement. I am not always a good man.
When I became a follower of Christ, I tried to be a good Christian. I have a long list of good and godly behaviors – with appropriate measures of church attendance, charitable giving and acts of service – but I am not a good Christian. I am in danger of being shipped off to the “bad Christian store” because my practice of the faith is incomplete, my priority of Christ’s lordship is inconsistent and my passion for the gospel is anemic. I continue to sin. I continue to fail. I do not pray as much as I should nor share my faith as frequently as I should. I am not always a good Christian.
But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Psalm 19:12
My problem is that I am lulled into believing that I am (overall) good. I compare myself to others and I see myself as measuring up pretty well against the competition. But, as the Psalm above states, I am unable to rightly evaluate my own goodness. I need forgiveness for the things I cannot see in myself. I need the truth of God to be my standard and not my own heightened sense of self. In comparison to the standards of the Scriptures (which are beneficial for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness), I am, by nature, a bad boy, a bad man and a bad Christian.
But that is not how God sees me: because I have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior, I have been justified (declared not guilty by God through His acceptance of Christ’s sacrificial satisfaction of God’s wrath) and sanctified (anointed, appointed and equipped to accomplish His will). I am seen by God as good, and that motivates me to demonstrate this divinely imbued goodness. It also motivates me to remember that this goodness is not from me, but from the one who redeemed me so that I might do some good. I thank God that He enables me to be a good person, a sinner saved by His grace.
Most of us are accustomed to seeing things as either good or bad. There tends to be very little ambiguity in our conception of what is right in our lives and what is wrong. We would all likely agree that hospitalizations, evictions, firings, rainstorms and car accidents are bad things. We would all also agree that promotions, vacations, weddings, days of unlimited sunshine and occasions for a party are good things. We all seek ways to avoid the bad and embrace the good as we go about our daily routines. We all try to move past those dark moments and move into the brighter ones.
There is an alternative to this black and white thinking, however; what if every moment had the opportunity for good or bad? This point came through to me the other night as a group of men and I studied the first two chapters of the book of Daniel. For those of you unaware of the plot of this portion of the Old Testament scripture, let me give you a brief synopsis:
- In 605 BC the nation of Babylonia conquered the tribe of Judah and took the choicest items and individuals back to its capital city;
- Four Judean young men from among the captives brought to Babylon were raised up to the positions of chief advisor to the king;
- When the king’s dream went uninterpreted by the Babylonian magicians or enchanters, Daniel – one of the four Judean youths – told the king what he had dreamt and what it meant.
One would think that being conquered by a foreign government would be a bad thing, yet the Bible states, “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God (Daniel 1:2 ESV).” God gave the people and land of Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar. Is God bringing about bad things for His people?
Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way. Psalm 85:13 (ESV)
Simply stated, the answer is no. We know this because we can also see that God gave the four youths “favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs (Daniel 1:9 ESV)” and gave Daniel “understanding in all visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17 ESV)”. We even know that after Daniel sought God’s mercy in the matter of the king’s dream, “the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night (Daniel 2:19 ESV)”. Through all those assumptively dark moments in Daniel’s life, God was there equipping Daniel for a great blessing – for the interpretation of the dream given to that secular leader of that secular nation was that all the great kingdoms of the earth will be crushed by the kingdom of heaven, which will rule forever.
If I were Daniel, I would have had many questions as I took the long journey from Jerusalem to Babylon. I would have wondered if God was with me in the midst of this awful situation. I think the same questions surface when our good lives are interrupted by hospitalizations, evictions, firings, rainstorms and car accidents. Perhaps we can gain a lesson from Daniel and expect that God has a good purpose in all of lives moments, sometimes something for us and sometimes something for those around us. Perhaps God could use some of us to interpret the visions God has given to someone who would deny His very existence. Perhaps we could be used as a rainbow in the midst of another person’s storm.