Something has always puzzled me: why in the world is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” such a beloved and often sung Christmas song? Even more, why would anyone teach it or sing it to their children? The song is nothing more than fuel for good nightmares. “You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.” “He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. Santa Claus is coming to town.” If you set these lyrics against the score of The Imperial March Theme from Star Wars, you have the soundtrack for a new installment in the horror movie genre. You had better be good. If you’re not, Santa is coming; he is going to get you, throw you in his sack, and you’ll never be seen or heard from again. Oh and, by the way, Merry Christmas!
Unfortunately, either wittingly or unwittingly, the grid of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” can get laid upon our Lord. I had better be good and if I am, the Lord will give me good things: a good job; a house in the suburbs; well-groomed and well-behaved children; or, any other “good thing.” We may even think: “I want the Lord to love me more, so I better be good,” or, “I’m sure that at the slightest hint of failure, the Lord is ready with the 2X4 of correction to smack me down.” Thankfully, the Scriptures provide a helpful corrective and point us to the real character of the Lord who is nothing like Santa.
The apostle Paul reminds Titus: “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). If we use the “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” grid, then we are in real trouble. Into the sack we go. Thanks be to God, Paul makes a contrast. In spite of our glowing character qualities, “He saved us” (Titus 3:5). Who saved us? “God our Savior” saved us.
Why would He do that? Why would God save the wicked, the unrighteous, and the immoral? Why would He save the very ones spoken of in verse 3, which are character qualities not only true of Paul and Titus, but also true of every human being? Clearly the answer must be that we have done something “good” to merit salvation. We have done some good work so as to eclipse all that Paul states in verse 3. To the contrary, salvation is not on account of some righteous, good, or meritorious deed or deeds we have done (v. 5). Our God and Savior saved us according to “His own mercy.” In other words, there was no external factor that coerced, cajoled, or squeezed salvation out of God. It was internal first. This mercy has its origin in the being of God. Mercy is the internal disposition of God that turns outward in action. The Lord saved us because He is a merciful God, and because He is merciful He acts mercifully toward those who are in desperate need of mercy.
The Lord is a merciful God whose mercy was turned outward in action when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the embodiment of His goodness and loving kindness, to save us.
God our Savior saved us. That statement tells us who acted and tells us what He did. “On account of his mercy” reveals why God saved us. When did He save us according to His mercy? When His “goodness and loving kindness appeared.” It is the essence of what we celebrate at Christmas. The goodness and loving kindness of our merciful and saving God is made manifest in Jesus Christ, the second person of the Triune God taking on flesh. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). It is the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds. “Fear not, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11).
“Santa Clause is Coming to Town” warns us to watch out and be fearful when Santa comes. But, when our Lord came, the angel tells the shepherds to “fear not.” The Lord has not come in judgment, but He has come for the purpose of saving sinners. Sinners, like you and me who are described, as we saw, by Paul in Titus 3:3. The Lord is a merciful God whose mercy was turned outward in action when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the embodiment of His goodness and loving kindness, to save us. This is good news of great joy and it is for all the people. This is the good news that we celebrate at Christmas. This is the good news we should celebrate all year long. Thank the Lord Christmas has nothing to do with Santa Claus and everything to do with Jesus Christ.
Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.
About David Thommen
David is a graduate of Western Seminary. He serves as the Assistant Director of Western Seminary's Doctor of Ministry program and The Spurgeon Fellowship and teaches in the Bible and Theology department. David also serves on the executive committee of the Northwest Chapter of ETS and has served in Pastoral Ministry for over 10 years. He currently serves as the pastor at New Life Church Robinwood.