Okay, Okay! It's not that I don't believe in Santa. I can overlook my previous biases against a guy who can get into apartment complexes and house trailers (sans) chimneys. I can accept that he really should work on his abs a bit more. I don't even mind admitting he has elves; everybody needs a little help and I assume they're all paid at least minimum wage.
I'll make all these concessions if you will just agree with me that Santa is so upper middle class that he is only sellable with niche marketing. As the holy season draws near, I am aware that world poverty keeps the big red guy circling mostly over North America. And I don't mind him using the 25th of December (which happens to be the birthday of my best Friend) to give even more to the American kids who already have too much.
But I'm out to give Rudolph a bigger flight plan. I want to see that big gold sleigh out there where 40,000 children a day starve to death. Most of the world's six billion people never see the North Pole give-away guy. You hardly ever see Antler International parked over the grass huts of Polynesia or the slums of Calcutta. I hate to say this out loud but Santa remains "Euro-Asian" and the kids who get the most stuff look remarkably like him.
God has never been a niche-marketer. I think my favorite Christmas verse is something Isaiah once said:
"Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." - Isaiah 55:1
Isaiah only said "Ho!" once while Santa keeps his "Ho's" in triplicate. Still I think I like Isaiah's "Ho" better than Santa's "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Long ago it was Dickens who reminded the affluent English, who could afford his novels, that Christmas was a time when want was "keenly felt and abundance rejoiced." And he also has the little Cratchit boy remind us that he hoped people would see his tiny withered form and think of Him who made the blind to see and the lame to walk. But Tiny Tim also serves as the case in point. It seems it's always the poor who pass out lavish benedictions — "God bless us everyone" — and at the same time could really use a little help from the big red guy.
Remember, it's those poor little orphans in Annie who lament, "Santa Claus we never see Santa Claus, who's he? Nobody cares a smidge when you're in an orphanage." How true. So all that can be concluded is that the big red guy is pretty much a niche-marketer. He goes where he knows the fare is good enough to leave a chocolate chip cookie for him and some fodder for Rudolph.
The ultimate test of Santa's altruism would be, if he had been around back in four or five BC, would he have stopped by Jesus' place in Nazareth? Who can say? But Jesus was not really in his favorite socioeconomic category. Still, if he had been there with his current disinterest in the really poor people of the world, he might have passed Jesus by. I have this feeling that he might have had the same need to wedge himself in tight Roman fireplaces, and ignore the kids who really would appreciate the sound of thirty-two little hooves on their roofs.
I guess I'll always like Jesus better than Santa. Jesus never goes down chimneys, but wherever He enters the human heart, Christmas is born. And thank goodness, He's indiscriminate with His love.
Calvin Miller is a professor at Southwestern Seminary.