Is the elf on the shelf mixing up the message of Christmas and confusing kids about the gospel? What is the difference between the message of Santa and his elves and the message of the gospel?
I was the type of kid growing up who never would have been on the naughty list. Mild-mannered and shy, one stern look was all it took to send me to my room sobbing hot tears of penitent shame.
I think I was grounded once. From television.
My brothers, on the other hand, were much less mild-mannered. They were full of boyish mischief, creative and energetic, and at times, crossed the line into defiance and delinquency.
According to Christmas tradition, my name was written in bold on the good list while my brothers’ best bet was just to keep their fingers crossed that Santa was in a good mood (or his elves were not watching too carefully).
Fast-forward twenty plus years and now I’m celebrating Christmas with my own children. Despite my heightened ability to see all the good in my children, I am not blind to their rough edges. After all, we are together ALL DAY LONG. I hear the whining, I see the hitting each other in frustration, and I know that deep down, just like me, their hearts are far from good.
I really don’t know where they’d fall on the scale of “things I’ve done to make my parents happy vs. ways I’ve driven my parents up a not-so-proverbial wall.”
Frankly, though, I am thankful they have no concept of a “good list” or a “naughty list.” They (mostly) know who Santa is. He’s not a bad guy in our house. It’s just that up to this point, we haven’t given the big man in red much attention at all. I sometimes sing carols about Rudolf and I plan to watch Elf with them for the first time. But really, Santa simply doesn’t deserve the main stage.
So what’s the concern with Santa and his elves?
The issue with Santa isn’t that he brings gifts or has reindeer that fly. (We love presents and imagination).
It’s not that he’s jolly and likes to drink Coke. (Dad loves a good joke and mama
has given up loves Coke).
The problem is that when Santa and elves on shelves are introduced as a key part of the holiday, the month(s) leading up to Christmas become about aiming at good performance while hiding the bad things kids can’t help but do.
“Are you being a good boy/girl?” is the constant refrain from strangers in public, and kids go to bed each night hoping that they’ve merited more than they’ve forfeited.
The message comes across loud and clear: you’re being watched and you better be good.
Either inadvertently or on purpose, the concept of Santa and little household elves can teach kids a gospel of good works.
What is the difference between the message of the gospel and the message of Elf on the Shelf?
Yesterday at church, our guest preacher shared a message on Christmas and Jesus becoming a man. The whole sermon was wonderful, but one statement in particular started me thinking about traditions and writing this post– “The lesson of Christmas is ‘you’re a sinner and you get gifts anyway’.”
We need to teach our kids especially at Christmas the crucial difference between a gospel of good works and a gospel of grace.
A gospel of good works teaches that we can do things that earn us favor with God. However, this kind of thinking stands in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture. The Bible says that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. There is no scale.
Simply put, our kids could spend an entire year speaking kindly to their siblings, cleaning their rooms each morning, washing the dishes with a cheerful face, and volunteering in a soup kitchen in their spare time– and not a single one of these things would earn them a spot on the good list.
PLEASE don’t let them think that the good list is attainable on their own.
Throw out the good list and teach them Romans 5:8 instead: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
THIS is where the good news of Christmas begins. Hope for the bad-listers. A light for those walking in darkness. Life for death.
This year, the greatest gift you can give your children is freedom from the futile treadmill of good works. Point them to the gospel again and again. Give them a Savior who knows all the bad things they’ve done, put His name on the naughty list on their behalf, and offers them all the sparkling, beautiful gifts only He could perfectly deserve.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2 Corinthians 5:21
So what about Christmas fun?
By all means, bake cookies, drive around in your pajamas to look at lights, make gingerbread houses laden down with colorful candy, sing the carols, deck the halls, and give gifts that bring the biggest smiles Christmas morning.
If you want to keep the fun and shenanigans of the elves and Santa, go for it. Just swap out the good list/bad list message and be clear about the gospel. (In our family, we find plenty of magic and fun without Santa, but I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule about it). Or try an alternative tradition like kindness elves.
Whatever you do, just let all your celebrations be the outflow of a heart of gratitude to the One who came.
More reading on Santa, Advent, & Christmas:
Rethinking Santa :: Desiring God
4 Ideas to Help You Not Miss the True Advent Season :: This Pilgrim Life
What to Do About Santa :: The Gospel-Centere Mom
Advent Books for the Whole Family :: This Pilgrim Life
Christmas Books List || 25 Classic Books for the Holiday :: This Pilgrim Life
Truth in the Tinsel :: OhAmanda
Three Ways to Use Gift Giving to Teach Your Children About God :: This Pilgrim Life
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