We all love Christmas. For some of us, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Part of what gives joy to our Christmas celebrations are the many customs and traditions that surround this feast. Some of these traditions are very old. Setting up a Christmas tree goes back 500 years. People started sending Christmas cards about 200 years ago. But Christmas continues to create new traditions. It is one of these traditions about which I would like to speak to you about today. That tradition is the “Elf on the Shelf.”
Now to understand the Elf on the Shelf, you have to understand Santa Claus, because the Elf is a part of his system. Santa’s system is this: Santa has a lot of really nice toys and gifts that he wants to bring to people at Christmas. But Santa does not intend to bring those gifts to everyone. He only brings gifts to those who are good. If you are mean, fight with your brothers and sisters, selfish, or cruel, Santa might come to your house, but he is not going to bring you a gift. You might receive coal or a piece of rotten fruit. Since this is Santa’s system, it has to be maintained. If the system is going to work, Santa has to know who is good and who is not. As the song goes: Santa is making a list and checking it twice. He has to find out who’s naughty or nice.
For many years Santa ran this part of the system himself. When I was growing up and misbehaved before Christmas, my parents would say, “George, Santa’s watching. Santa’s watching you!” And because I really wanted a new bike for Christmas, I would clean up my act. But about 2005 Santa got tired of watching. So, he outsourced this piece of his system to elves, and here is where we get the Elf on the Shelf. You may buy one of these Elves on Amazon for about $30. If you bring an Elf to your home, he sits on a shelf and watches. Then every night he goes back to the North Pole and tells Santa who is good and who is bad. He comes back the next day and watches from a new location.
This is Santa’s system. It is in place, and it is a part of Christmas. But what I want all of you here to know is this: Santa’s system is not Jesus’ system. Santa brings gifts to those who are good. Jesus gives himself to everyone. That is what the angel announces to the shepherds: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all the people.” For all the people, not just those who are good, or responsible, or kind. The good news is that Christmas does not depend on what we do or fail to do. It only depends on what God has done, and God has given us his son.
Jesus comes to the good and the bad, to the saints and the sinners, to the naughty and to the nice. That means that if you are here this morning, Jesus comes to you. Even if you are not particularly proud of everything you have done this year, even if you have fought with your brothers and sisters, even if you have been more selfish than generous, even if you still hold a prejudice against others who are different because of status, or race, or sexual orientation, Jesus still comes to you. He offers you eternal life.
So, let’s get this straight. If you want presents under your Christmas tree, be good. Santa’s system, Santa’s rules. But Jesus’ rules are different. The only thing that matters to God is God’s free choice to save us, and God’s power to save us is greater than any of our achievements or failings. This is why God does not need the Elf on the Shelf. God’s love is unconditional. Therefore, whoever you are, whatever you have done, God’s love comes to you and the joy of Christmas is yours. That’s the gospel. Period. Merry Christmas.