“Mommy, if there really was a naughty and nice list we would all be on the naughty list.”
This statement from my seven year old had much greater theological depth than she knew. Her observation didn’t come from a manipulative self-pity over being naughty. It came from a clear view of what she knows about the gospel: “None is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).
As the traditions of the holidays swirl around my children, my hope is that they will learn to distinguish the law from the gospel. I want my kids to know that God is not another Santa Claus. I long for them to embrace the fact that they are not capable of being good enough to receive anything but coal in their stockings and that our hope for goodness can only be found in the only One capable of perfection.
With the advent celebration and family traditions intersecting this season there is a very clear battle between law and gospel going on. Many parents set an elf on a shelf to watch over their children leaving notes such as, “I saw you steal a cookie today. If you are good from now until Christmas I promise that I won’t tell Santa. If you are extra good then maybe you will get that iPod you asked for.” It’s just another extension of the naughty and nice list. It’s the law kicked up a notch and it gives parents a way to manipulate their children’s behavior as they deal with children high on Christmas treats and anticipation, and who can blame them. If I weren't so lazy and uncreative I would be doing the same.
The Elf on the Shelf can be a fun Christmas tradition but unfortunately it is often a more intense reality of what many children are taught all year long. Do good and you will be accepted by God and will receive good things. Do bad and you will be punished by God or worse yet, be turned away. It’s the law, masked as Karma, masked as parenting.
Thank God for the Gospel! Thank God for the incarnation of the Son who came down to save us from this filthy mess into which we’ve gotten ourselves. Thank God that we no longer live under this burden but now live in the freedom of Christ. Is that not what Christmas is about in the first place?
We no longer have to live within the confines of the law. The Holy Spirit was not left to look over our shoulder to make sure that we are being good enough for God. Jesus didn’t come for those who were good enough and He certainly didn’t come to tattle on us. The Son Of God humbled himself into the restricted form of a human body, lived a sinless life worthy of one million iPads, and willingly hung on a tree to die for those who deserved not only coal but much worse. He did this all knowing that we could never be good enough to appease the Father.
We could not earn a righteousness of our own so God’s gift to us was the righteousness of his Son wrapped up in a blood-stained, tragic death, which culminated in a cry of “It is finished.”
“It is finished” declared Jesus’ annihilation of the naughty and nice list. It was with that cry that He pushed that elf off the shelf so that we could be free. My friends, rest in Him this season. Rest in His goodness and not your own. And please, give your children the greatest gift that they will ever receive: the grace that tells them that they have a Savior who loves them and has come to rescue them from the crushing news that they will never be good enough.