My mom told me she didn’t think I ever believed in Santa Claus. I distinctly remember as a small child tugging at her coat, asking her why there were two different Santas standing just down the street from each other. Needless to say, I had my doubts about the jolly old fellow after that – not that I didn’t appreciate him giving me candy.
Many parents struggle with whether to let their child believe in Santa Claus. You don’t want to lie to them and lose their trust, but you also don’t want your child to be that annoying kid that spoils the fun for everyone else. I told my children that the “Santas” they saw were people who dressed up to celebrate the giving spirit of Saint Nicholas, a man who lived long ago that went around doing good deeds for needy people. Yet when my daughter started preschool and heard all her friends talking about Santa Claus, she was unconvinced he wasn’t real. When it came time for bed on Christmas Eve, she made a determined beeline into my room, blankie in tow, and scrambled up into my bed with me. She was not about to be caught alone in her room if there was the slightest chance of a complete stranger finding his way into our home in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, some of us really never grow out of our belief in Santa Claus. We may not call him “Santa,” but truth be told, we believe in a nice entity whose sole purpose is to bless our lives and grant our wishes. We may call that entity God, but we attribute to Him characteristics that are much more Santa-like than God-like. We always have a “list” of things we want from Him, and we are likely to get upset when the items on that list are not forthcoming in the timing and manner of our choosing. We believe that if we are “good” people we should be entitled to “good” things, and of course, we think we know best what constitutes “good.” Unfortunately, though, we ask for too little. We ask for things that would make our lives more comfortable when God wants to do so much more than that.
In Luke 2:25-38 we find a devout man named Simeon and a prophetess named Anna eagerly awaiting the very first Christmas. This was a dark, volatile period in Israel’s history, not a calm, peaceful time as is often portrayed. The people longed desperately for someone to save them from their oppressive and evil government.
Nonetheless, God had bigger plans. His plan was to save all the people of all the nations, not just Israel, from all oppression and evil. Just as Simeon predicted, many in Israel rejected that plan. They rejected Jesus as their Savior because He was not fulfilling the prophecies the way they thought He should. All they could see were their own immediate circumstances. They didn’t grasp the fact that God’s plans far exceeded their own agendas. Thankfully for us who are not Israelites, God didn’t check in with them before making His plan to save all humanity, not just from a lifetime of suffering but from an eternity of suffering.
When God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we think He should, we would do well to learn from those in Jesus’ day. We can get on board with what He’s doing even when His path takes a different turn than what we think is best, or we can maintain our belief that our ways are best and reject His. Either way, He doesn’t need to check in with us. As much as our current situations may cause us grief, He sees a broader picture involving more people than we know. As I look at our featured missionary families, the Welches and the Rasavanhs, and other Open Bible missionaries, I see people of faith who gave up their “rights” to do things their own way. This Christmas, instead of hanging out with loved ones and celebrating cherished holiday traditions, they are bringing Christmas, the story of Christ’s birth, to people across the world. They see God’s bigger picture, a Savior for all the people, a light to reveal God to all the nations, and they want to be part of it no matter the cost. Hopefully you have not allowed the worship of a god of your own choosing, a “Santa-like” god, to replace your worship of, trust in, and obedience to the real God. If you have, this would be a great season to turn your focus to the true God.