Friday, December 23, 2011

“Santa Baby” and Baby Jesus: Intimacy and Reverence

The Christmas song “Santa Baby” is an obvious spoof, but an element of presumptuous intimacy is exhibited in the way in which Santa is addressed in the song. Nine times he is called “Santa baby,” twice he is addressed as “Santa cutie” and once as “Santa honey.” This over-familiarity is a common sign of the presumption that we can control and manipulate people in order to get our own way. The songstress offers a long list of desired gifts and wheedles them out of Santa by exploiting a presumed familiarity and intimacy. Santa is a big sugar daddy who will give her anything she wants. She offers to “wait up for you dear” and “be oh so good” if Santa will hurry down the chimney tonight.

Quite frankly, this is very much like the way that some people view God. God is a big Sugar Daddy in the sky who can be wheedled, coaxed, and enticed to give us what we want. Just ask, and God will fulfill your every desire. God will make you rich, meet all you needs, and remove every encumbrance so that you can have the full and abundant life that you so selfishly desire. God will “bless” you abundantly, fulfilling your every desire.

The birth of Jesus in many ways is the most intimate gesture that God ever made toward humanity. Through incarnation, the holy, the immortal, invisible God only wise entered into our human frame and dwelt among us. Jesus gave God a face and hands and feet. He walked among us, taught us, healed us, encouraged us, and invited us into the intimate relationship of becoming his disciples. But there was a risk in the incarnation—a risk that we would seize on the tangible and try to control it, manipulate it, and use it for our own purposes. For many of us, our relationship with God is little more than giving God the image of a Santa Baby who will give us what we want.

Somewhere in the intimacy we experience with God we can lose our sense of reverence. Because God has done something significant for us through Jesus Christ, we think that we are the center of God’s attention and should be the object of God’s benefaction. Perhaps in this Christmas season we need to recover something of the fear, awe, and reverence of the shepherds who first heard the news of Jesus’ birth. When their evening in the fields watching over their sheep was interrupted by an angelic messenger, Luke tells us that “they were afraid with fear” (Luke 2:9 in the Greek), “sore afraid” (KJV), “terribly frightened” (NASB), or “terrified” (NRSV). A similar experience is recorded in Matthew 28:2-4 when an angel of the Lord appeared to the men guarding Jesus’ tomb. “For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.” If a single angel elicited such a response from brave guards, imagine the effect upon the humble shepherds of “a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13). How can we possibly respond with less awe and reverence to the incarnation of the Holy One? Oh sure, a baby seems so innocent, harmless, and manageable; but this Baby Jesus is not a Santa Baby or a Sugar Daddy. He is the Gift incarnate—a gift far better than sables, convertibles, yachts, platinum mines, and rings—and a Gift that should drive us to our knees in reverence, awe, thanksgiving, and humility.

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